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Problem in parachute test forced SpaceX to drop its mock spacecraft

SpaceX and NASA are both busy preparing for the upcoming manned test of the Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s capsule which will carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. However, the company ran into a problem while performing a parachute test on the capsule this week.

“On March 24, SpaceX lost a spacecraft-like device used to test the Crew Dragon Mark 3 parachute design,” NASA wrote in an update from its Commercial Crew Program. “The test requires a helicopter to lift the device suspended underneath it to reach the needed test parameters. However, the pilot proactively dropped the device in an abundance of caution to protect the test crew as the test device became unstable underneath the helicopter. At the time of the release, the testing device was not armed, and a test of the parachute design was not performed.”

Crew Dragon capsule

Parachute testing is a complex process, but the company says it is almost finished with its tests of this particular function. At the end of last year, SpaceX performed a perfect parachute test also on the Crew Dragon module. But testing has not always gone so smoothly, such as a test in April last year which suffered from problems when one of the four parachutes did not deploy properly, causing the test sled to hit the ground too fast which caused damage.

While this latest test failure indicates there are still some issues to be worked out with the parachute system, NASA is confident that the planned launch of the Crew Dragon to carry astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS can still go ahead in the next few months. This would be a significant milestone as it would be the first time that American astronauts have been launched from American soil in nearly a decade.

“Although losing a test device is never a desired outcome, NASA and SpaceX always will prioritize the safety of our teams over hardware,” NASA wrote in its update. “We are looking at the parachute testing plan now and all the data we already have to determine the next steps ahead of flying the upcoming Demo-2 flight test in the mid-to-late May timeframe.”

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