SpaceX video shows off successful test of new Crew Dragon parachutes

SpaceX is edging closer to the day that its Crew Dragon capsule carries astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

A video (below) posted online on Sunday, November 3, showed a recent parachute test simulating what would happen if one of the capsule’s four main parachutes failed to open during its return to Earth.

Instead of using the capsule, SpaceX attached an object of similar weight to properly test the parachutes and gauge the severity of the ground landing. We’re pleased to report that if there had been a crew-filled capsule attached, its occupants would have emerged unscathed.

“SpaceX team has completed 13 successful tests in a row of upgraded Mark 3 parachutes for Crew Dragon,” the company announced in a tweet posted on Sunday. “Most recent test demonstrated the parachute system’s ability to land the spacecraft safely in the unlikely event that one of the four main parachutes fails.”

The parachute tests are a vital part of ongoing preparations to ensure that its crew capsule meets strict safety conditions for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS, with the debut mission possibly taking place as early as next year.

SpaceX revealed in October 2019 that it was working on the capsule’s new Mark 3 parachutes.

“We think the Mark 2 parachutes are safe, but the Mark 3 parachutes are possibly 10 times safer,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk commented at the time. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine was happy to back up Musk’s claims, describing them as “the best parachutes ever.”

The Crew Dragon is similar in design to the Dragon capsule that SpaceX has been using to carry supplies to the ISS since 2012.

Although it’s not ready to take humans, the Crew Dragon earlier this year carried its first payload to the ISS, where it stayed docked for five days before making a successful return to Earth.

Engine test

Next up is a static fire of the Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco emergency engines in a test that should take place this week. The engines are designed to fire up and carry the capsule away from the rocket and out of danger if there’s a problem during a launch.

The test is important as it follows an unsuccessful one at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in April 2019 when an explosion wrecked the capsule. No one was injured in the incident. An investigation revealed that the explosion was the result of a leaky valve that allowed propellant to enter high-pressure helium tubes.

Last week SpaceX posted a video showing a preparatory test for this week’s ground-based engine exercise, with a flight test of the system also expected as soon as the team is confident of its reliability.

Boeing’s Starliner test

Space fans might also want to watch Boeing’s abort test of its Starliner crew capsule, which is scheduled to take place on Monday, November 4. Like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the Starliner is also expected to be used for carrying astronauts to and from the ISS.

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