Dragon parachute test aborted


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Because of the failure of the equipment unrelated to the parachutes, the helicopter pilot for a drop test of SpaceX’s crew Dragon parachutes on March 24, 2020 was forced to release the dummy capsule early, causing its loss.

“During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable,” SpaceX said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release,” the statement added. “As the helicopter was not yet at 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.”

This issue, combined with the loss of a Falcon 9 first stage (on its fifth flight) during re-entry, because one engine failed to function properly, is making some news sources suggest that NASA will delay the planned May launch of Dragon’s first manned mission to ISS.

If NASA demands a delay of that May manned mission because of these two issues, it will demonstrate how truly insane our society has become. While the issue prevented the drop test, it involved the equipment that suspended the dummy capsule below the helicopter, not the parachute system. Furthermore, this test was one of the very last tests of the parachute system, following a test campaign during the past few months that has worked repeatedly on numerous tests.

As for the first stage loss, do I have to repeat again that it occurred on the stage’s fifth reuse, and after it had successfully launched its payload into orbit? SpaceX will be using a new first stage for the manned mission, and they have experienced no failures on a new first stage like this for literally years.

In a sane society, NASA would look at the overall context, and put aside these issues as irrelevant to their launch schedule. They, and SpaceX, will want to figure out what happened, but they should insist on proceeding on schedule for the May launch.

We are no longer sane however. I will not be surprised if they announce a further launch delay.

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One comment

  • As the person who broke the news of the parachute failure on Twitter and whose website is linked to as “some news sources,” let me clarify a few things.

    There are three things that could cause the flight to slip into June. One involves the parachute test, which will now have to be done again. The second is the investigation into the engine failure, which is on going. The third is other work that needs to be completed before you put astronauts aboard.

    I wasn’t suggesting anything. This was not my speculation. I was told be a source knowledgeable about this program that the launch was trending toward June due to these issues. That doesn’t mean it will slip. But, it could.

    The other wild card in all this is the coronavirus pandemic. For better or worse, it’s already stopped a number of launch campaigns in their tracks. We’ll see what happens.

    I know how you feel about all these things. I don’t want to get into an argument about whether NASA is being overly bureaucratic. Or how severe the coronavirus is going to be. I just wanted to clarify what I wrote.

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