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Answers emerge as SpaceX investigates April accident

SpaceX's Crew Dragon. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX has pinned down the cause of an explosion that destroyed one of its Crew Dragon capsules on a test stand on April 20.

Why it matters: The stakes are high for SpaceX. NASA has a contract with the company to use its Crew Dragon capsule to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

  • The first crewed SpaceX flight was expected to occur before the end of 2019, but the accident — which didn't cause any injuries — is likely to set those plans back.

Details: A SpaceX and NASA investigation team found that a leaky valve in the Crew Dragon's propulsion system was to blame for the explosion, which took place about 100 milliseconds before the company lit up the capsule's SuperDraco thrusters for a test firing.

  • SpaceX says they've finished about 80% of the investigation and are switching out the problematic valves, among other fixes.

What to watch: NASA has yet to put out an updated expected timeframe for SpaceX's first crewed flight to the station.

  • "I hope it's this year, but we're going to fly when it's the right time and when we know that we're going to be flying our crew safely." NASA Commercial Crew program manager Kathy Lueders said during a press call.
  • Boeing is also working toward building its Starliner spacecraft under a contract with NASA to fly astronauts to the space station as well.