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SpaceX parachute snafu won’t delay Crew Dragon launch

Published Mar 27th, 2020 11:14PM EDT
crew dragon launch
Image: NASA

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  • NASA appears to indicate that its planned launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station is still on track for a launch by the end of May. 
  • An issue during testing of the Crew Dragon parachute design resulted in the destruction of the test hardware, but SpaceX maintains that the problem was not related to the parachutes. 
  • The launch will see a pair of NASA astronauts fly aboard SpaceX hardware for the first time ever. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX’s upcoming test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft will be the first-ever crewed mission using the company’s hardware. It’s a very big deal for both SpaceX and NASA, which recruited SpaceX as part of its Commercial Crew program alongside competitor Boeing. Recently, NASA suggested that it would be ready to launch the first two astronauts on a Crew Dragon ship as early as May, but a recent parachute test threw that timeline into jeopardy.

As was reported yesterday, the test didn’t exactly go as either SpaceX or NASA would have liked. While hauling a dummy object into the air to test the Crew Dragon parachute system that had been installed on it, the helicopter being used for the test became unstable and the object had to be released. It was destroyed on impact with the ground, but nobody was harmed.

NASA is very particular about the criteria it sets forth for its partners, particular when the hardware being tested will be responsible for the safety of its own astronauts. So, when SpaceX announced the test snafu, it wasn’t immediately clear whether or not the unfortunate issue would affect the timeline for sending the first humans into space in the Crew Dragon.

In a new update released by NASA today, the agency acknowledges the issue with the parachute test and appears to support the decision of the helicopter pilot in releasing the test object in order to keep the crew of the aircraft safe. More importantly, the update mentions the same “mid-to-late May” window for the launch of the first crewed SpaceX mission, which is good news.

From NASA:

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.

It’s certainly possible that NASA and SpaceX can redo the test before the planned launch window, and get everything sorted out as to avoid any delay. It’s still unclear when that additional testing would happen, however, and with the current global health crisis threatening to sideline all manner of projects across every industry, meeting the May launch window could still be a challenge.

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