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SpaceX parachute testing goes awry before crucial Crew Dragon launch

Image credit: wikicommons

One of the final parachute tests for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has gone awry with a test version of the spacecraft becoming unstable before landing, which could lead to a last-minute delay for the capsule’s first human cargo.

A CNBC reporter tweeted that it was an “unfortunate incident” and said it “may” cause a delay for the Crew Dragon’s first mission in May, given the additional complications resulting from the spread of coronavirus.

The aforementioned 'Demo-2' mission will see two astronauts being sent up to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of an operation that could eventually see the SpaceX capsule become Nasa’s de facto crew rotation vehicle.

The launch was originally planned for July 2019 but was delayed after one of its thrusters caught fire during a test in April.

The Elon Musk-fronted firm has continued to test the capsule since then, successfully demonstrating its abort feature in January 2020.

Nasa subsequently confirmed that SpaceX would be the first commercial company to carry its astronauts to the ISS, fighting off competition from Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft which has been beset by numerous software failures.

In a statement, SpaceX said: “During a planned parachute drop test today, the test article suspended underneath the helicopter became unstable. Out of an abundance of caution and to keep the helicopter crew safe, the pilot pulled the emergency release. 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.”

It added that “no one” was injured and that Nasa and SpaceX intend to determine the future testing plan for the capsule.

The Dragon capsule is intended to be reusable, unlike most other space-faring vehicles in the past. This is in keeping with SpaceX’s approach to the rest of its fleet: Musk hopes that by developing reusable rockets and spacecraft, the cost for humans to reach space will drop considerably.

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