Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is getting ready to launch their first crewed mission aboard the updated Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Demo-2 mission will launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under a contract with the agency's Commercial Crew Program. Veteran NASA Astronauts Behnken and Hurley will be the first to fly aboard the craft. SpaceX is expected to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States of America. NASA has not executed manned flights to space since 2011. The agency has been relying on Russian rocket launch services to transport astronauts to the orbiting laboratory ever since.
The Dragon spacecraft features parachutes that will be used when astronauts return from the space station. As Dragon enters our atmosphere, it deploys it's parachutes to conduct a soft landing in the ocean. Parachutes can also be deployed in the unlikely event of an emergency. For the past week, SpaceX has been conducting a series of Dragon parachute tests to meet NASA's safety standards ahead of the mission scheduled for mid-to-late May. SpaceX uses a spacecraft-like mock-up of the Dragon craft, which features a Mark 3 parachute system, to conduct drop tests. These parachutes have already been tested successfully 24 times, but on Tuesday 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:
"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."
The rocket company detailed the event, stating "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 Commercial Crew Program representatives confirmed what caused the parachute test to go awry. "On March 24, SpaceX lost a spacecraft-like device used to test the Crew Dragon Mark 3 parachute design," NASA wrote in an update statement, "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."
NASA published an update statement on March 26:
"Although losing a test device is never a desired outcome, NASA and SpaceX always will prioritize the safety of our teams over hardware. 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."
The agency confirmed that the issue was not related to the spacecraft's system. Its likely SpaceX will conduct the parachute test again to ensure the system works at optimal levels before taking flight.
When SpaceX conducts the Demo-2 mission this year, it will ignite a new era in spaceflight where astronauts finally launch from American soil after almost a decade!
WATCH ANIMATION OF DEMO-2 MISSION: