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Watch SpaceX’s parachute tests for its soon-to-be-manned Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX is currently developing its Crew Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, though there have been some challenges along the way, such as in April, when a capsule exploded during testing due to a leaky valve. But an unmanned test flight in March went off without a hitch, landing safely in the ocean off the Florida coast.

Now, a new video shows the parachute systems for the capsule being tested. SpaceX describes it as “the most advanced spacecraft parachute recovery system in the world.” So far, the system has been tested successfully 25 times under different deployment conditions.

The tests shown in the video include deployment from a C-130 Airplane at an altitude of 10,000 to 25,000 feet, from a Skycrane Helicopter at an altitude of 8,000 to 12,000 feet, and from a high-altitude balloon at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet. In each case, the capsule is carried to the required altitude by the deployment vehicle, attached by wires. Then the wires are released and the capsule is dropped.

When the capsule leaves the vehicle, its parachute is already attached and ready to open. As the capsule falls, the parachute puffs open and slows the capsule’s descent using air resistance. The parachutes allow the capsule to approach its landing at a safe speed so it doesn’t hit the ground or water where it lands too hard.

Different configurations tested include single parachutes as well as double, triple, and quad parachutes. And the tests also used one or more drogues, which are devices that look a little like windsocks, and which trail in the air behind the capsule to assist with slowing it down.

All of this testing makes SpaceX confident in the security of its landing system, with the company saying: “SpaceX is returning human spaceflight capabilities to the United States with one of the safest, most advanced systems ever built.”

Now the company just needs to work on landing its reusable rocket boosters as accurately. Although the landing of boosters is much lower priority than landing a capsule as the boosters are unmanned, they are still costly to replace. In the last year, SpaceX has lost two boosters on landing, with one falling off a drone ship into the ocean and one crashing into the sea.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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