Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is preparing to conduct their first manned mission known as Demo-2, as part of its Commercial Crew Program contract with NASA. Demo-2 mission will consist of launching two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first time. SpaceX has been conducting a series of Crew Dragon parachute tests to meet NASA's safety standards ahead of the mission slated to take place sometime mid-to-late May.
Last night (March 24), SpaceX announced that one of the final parachute tests for its the Dragon spacecraft did not go as planned. The rocket company explained the issue is nothing to do with the spacecraft nor parachute system. SpaceX said in a statement to reporters that engineers attempted to perform a parachute test by dropping a test vehicle from a helicopter. Its unclear if they utilized a mock-up replica of the Dragon spacecraft, like on previous tests. During the drop-test attempt, the vehicle became too unstable for the helicopter and the pilot decided to pull the emergency release system to keep the crew on the helicopter safe. "Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release," a SpaceX representative said. The test vehicle was destroyed as it was dropped from the sky because the parachute system was not prepared to deploy, "the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence."
"During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable out of abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release. As the helicopter was not yet a target conditions, the test article was not armed, and as such, the parachute system did not initiate the parachute deployment sequence. While the test article was lost, this was not a failure of the parachute system and most importantly no one was injured. NASA and SpaceX are working together to determine the testing plan going forward in advance of Crew Dragon's second demonstration mission."
In the statement, SpaceX did not specify how many drop tests they will perform but on March 6, Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, told reporters that the company was "almost done" with Crew Dragon parachute testing. "We agreed to three more tests, and one of them was actually performed two days ago, so we have two more tests to perform."
Yesterday (March 24), NASA announced that representatives from its Commercial Crew Program will be present during SpaceX's investigation of what caused a Falcon 9 engine to shutdown prematurely during the previous Starlink mission. The agency said it was still planning to conduct the Demo-2 mission in May and "would adjust the date based on review of the data, if appropriate” from the ongoing investigation."
Meanwhile, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Dough Hurley, who will be launched to space aboard Crew Dragon's first manned flight, are training in a "quarantine bubble" amid the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The astronauts told reporters that they are living in a "quarantine bubble" in order to protect their health before the vital Demo-2 mission that will return capability to the United States to conduct manned rocket flights after nearly a decade. Astronauts are continuing to train for Dragon's Demo-2 mission they shared that NASA is taking every precaution possible to keep everyone who is working around them healthy. "We just have to be smart about what we do and how we do it and follow the protocols that our flight surgeons and medical community have set forth. We are going to do the right thing as best we can." Astronaut Hurley said, "We're going to try to continue to train as best we can. We're going to do the right things and hopefully arrive at the launch pad healthy when we actually do launch."