SpaceX Tests Parachutes That Will Land Space Crew Back To Earth

SpaceX may be ambitious, but it isn't delusional. While it's still trying to perfect rocket landing on sea as well as landing human-bearing spacecraft, it has contracts to fulfill, including those that happen to require landing human-bearing spacecraft. In order to do so, it needs to first make sure that the traditional parachute landing is also perfect. That's exactly what it did in Arizona with what was deemed a successful test of a Parachute Drop Test for what would be a Crew Dragon landing. And this time, not a single rocket was fired.

SpaceX is one of two private companies, the other being Boeing, that have been chosen by NASA to ferry its astronauts back and forth the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Program. Contracting private companies as part of its space missions is seen as one of the ways to cut down on government expenditures. Four astronauts have been chosen last July to train on Boeing's CST-100 as well as SpaceX Crew Dragon craft, the latter of which is the subject of two of SpaceX's most recent tests.

This time, no actual spacecraft, not event a dummy model, was used. Instead, a weighted simulant was dropped off from a C-130 cargo aircraft under the same conditions that a Crew Dragon would encounter on its re-entry back to Earth. Four red and white parachutes were attached to the simulator, which unfurled as it reached the altitude where the Crew Dragon would normally start its descent, hopefully to the ocean.

While this is considered to be the final part of SpaceX' certification work for the Commercial Crew Program, it is by far the final test. For one, it didn't yet include the drogue parachutes necessary to decelerate the spacecraft's descent. Later tests will more faithfully replicate conditions for landing the Crew Dragon.

In the ideal SpaceX future, no parachutes will be needed at all. A Crew Dragon will instead use use its SuperDraco engines to land back to solid ground, just like in the test it did last week. That, however, is still a slightly distant future, so, for now, parachutes it is.