SpaceX nails thirteenth back-to-back safety test of Crew Dragon parachute systems

After a 2-year delay, Crew Dragon might carry its first astronauts to the Space Station by early 2020.

SpaceX tested the third iteration of the parachute system on its Crew Dragon human spacecraft. While the twice-revised system had malfunctioned in the past, SpaceX has upgraded the Dragon capsule with a newly-designed Mark 3 parachute system. It fared very well, with thirteen successful back-to-back tests of the system.

In a Twitter post by SpaceX after the successful test, a video shows the system able to perform normally even if one of the four parachutes in the system was malfunctioning.

Earlier in the year, Musk had announced that SpaceX was aiming to perform "at least" 10 successful tests (in a row) of the new-and-improved 'Mark 3' parachute system before the capsule is human-ready.

"We certainly want to get […] at least on the order of 10 successful tests in a row before, before launching astronauts," Musk reportedly said at a press conference alongside NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine about the commercial crew program at the time. "So that seems like where the behavior of the parachutes is consistent, is across 10 successful tests."

SpaceX performs a parachute test for its Dragon capsule over the Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada in August 2017. Image: NASA

SpaceX performs a parachute test for its Dragon capsule over the Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada in August 2017. Image: NASA

Mark 3 parachutes on Crew Dragon

Crew Dragon's parachutes, earlier made of nylon, have been modified to a Zylon-based material. Zylon is an extremely durable polymer — 1.6 times more durable than Kevlar — and provides lines used in the parachute that are thrice as strong as nylon. Along with a change in material, SpaceX also changed the pattern of stitch on the parachute to improve its weight balance and distribution.

The parachutes worked as expected during the test and puts SpaceX Dragon days away from another big milestone: a ground-based engine firing of the Crew Dragon's abort engines on 6 November. If successful, there will be one other abort test mid-flight on the Falcon 9 before January 2020. This test will reveal how ready Crew Dragon is to be jettisoned from a Falcon 9 after lift-off, in the case of an unforeseen emergency.

2020: Dragon's first crewed flight 

After a delay of almost two years, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon might carry its first astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as soon a January or February of next year. In an event held at SpaceX’s headquarters in California, NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine and Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, spoke about the future of Crew Dragon.

According to Space, Bridenstine said, "We are getting very close, and we're very confident that, in the first part of next year, we will be ready to launch American astronauts on American rockets.” The module has been delayed by at least two years now.

Also Read: SpaceX's Crew Dragon could launch NASA's astronauts into space as soon as early next year

Also Read: NASA, SpaceX want to send the first manned Dragon capsule to the space station by early 2020

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