NASA Commercial Crew Partner SpaceX Tests Dragon Parachute System

A Dragon spacecraft splashed down in Morro Bay during a parachute test in Dec. 2013. (Credit: NASA)
A Dragon spacecraft splashes down in Morro Bay during a parachute test in Dec. 2013. (Credit: NASA)

MORROW BAY, Calif. (NASA PR) — Engineers and safety specialists from NASA and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) gathered in Morro Bay, Calif., in late December to demonstrate how the company’s Dragon spacecraft’s parachute system would function in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent.

The test was part of an optional milestone under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative and approved by the agency in August. Through the Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is one of NASA’s commercial partners working to develop a new generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil. NASA intends to use such commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The 12,000-pound test craft was lifted 8,000 feet above sea level by an Erickson Sky Crane helicopter and flown over the Pacific Ocean. Following Dragon’s release, two drogue parachutes were released from the top of the spacecraft to slow its decent, before the three main parachutes deployed. The craft splashed down and was quickly recovered by the Sky Crane and carried back to shore.

“The parachute test is essential for the commercial crew effort because it helps us better understand how SpaceX’s system performs as it safely returns crew,” said Jon Cowart, NASA Partner Integration deputy manager working with SpaceX. “Like all of our partners, SpaceX continues to provide innovative solutions based on NASA’s lessons learned that could make spaceflight safer.”

During a normal spacecraft landing, the parachutes will be aided by the Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters to provide a soft controlled landing. This redundancy on both the parachutes and thrusters is designed to ensure safe landings for crews.

“SpaceX is working diligently to make the Dragon spacecraft the safest vehicle ever flown,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. “The parachute system is an integral part of Dragon’s ability to provide a safe landing for nominal and abort conditions — with this successful test we are well-positioned to execute a full end-to-end test of the launch escape system later this year.”

The parachute test puts SpaceX a step closer to launch abort system tests. The company currently is manufacturing the spacecraft and rocket to be used for these flight tests.

SpaceX is on track to complete all 15 of its CCiCap milestones in 2014. All of NASA’s industry partners, including SpaceX, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

SpaceX CCiCAP Milestone Status
Award Period: August 2012 – August 2014
Milestones: 15
Completed: 11
Total: $460 Million

No.
DescriptionOriginal DateStatusAmount
1CCiCap Kickoff Meeting. SpaceX will hold a kickoff meeting at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, or a nearby facility to review the current state of existing hardware, processes and designs, describe plans for CCiCap program execution during both the base period and the optional period and lay the groundwork for a successful partnership between NASA and SpaceX.August 2012Complete$40
Million
2Financial and Business Review. SpaceX will hold a financial and business review to accomplish verification of financial ability to meet NASA’s stated goals for the CCiCap program by providing NASA insight into SpaceX finances.August 2012
Complete$20 Million
3Integrated System Requirements Review (ISRR). SpaceX will hold an integrated System Requirements Review (ISRR) to examine the functional and performance requirements defined for the entire CTS for the Commercial Crew Program design reference mission per section 3.1 of CCT-DRM-1110, as well as to evaluate the interpretation and applicability of each requirement.October 2012Complete$50 Million
4Ground Systems and Ascent Preliminary Design Review (PDR). SpaceX will hold a Ground Systems and Ascent Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to demonstrate that the overall CTS preliminary design for ground systems and ascent meets all requirements with acceptable risk and within schedule constraints and that it establishes the basis for proceeding with detailed design.December 2012Complete$35 Million
5Pad Abort Test Review. SpaceX will hold a Pad Abort Test Review to demonstrate the maturity of the pad abort test article design and test concept of operations.March 2013Complete$20 Million
6Human Certification Plan Review. SpaceX will hold a Human Certification Plan Review to present the Human Certification Plan. This Human Certification Plan Review will cover plans for certification of the design of the spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations systems.May 2013Complete$50 Million
7On-Orbit and Entry Preliminary Design Review (PDR). SpaceX will hold an On-Orbit and Entry Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to demonstrate that the overall CTS preliminary design for orbit, rendezvous and docking with the ISS, and entry flight regimes meets all requirements with acceptable risk and within schedule constraints and that it establishes the basis for proceeding with detailed design.July 2013Complete$35 Million
8In-Flight Abort Test Review. SpaceX will hold an In-Flight Abort Test Review to demonstrate the maturity of the in-flight abort test article design and test concept of operations.September 2013Complete$10 Million
9Safety Review. SpaceX will hold a Safety Review at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, or a nearby facility to demonstrate that the CTS design is progressing toward meeting the Commercial Crew Program’s safety goals.October 2013Complete$50 Million
10Flight Review of Upgraded Falcon 9. SpaceX will conduct a review of a launch of the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle demonstrating the operation of enhanced first-stage M1D engines, stage separation systems, enhanced second-stage MVacD engine and mission-critical vehicle telemetry during flight. Demonstration of the upgraded launch vehicle will serve as a risk reduction for the planned inflight abort test.November 2013Compete$0
15A&BDragon Parachute Tests. SpaceX will conduct parachute drop tests in order to validate the new parachute design as capable of supporting a pad abort event. Milestone 15A included a crane drop test. Milestone 15B featured a helicopter drop test.November 2013Complete$20 Million
TOTAL TO DATE
(OUT OF $460 MILLION):
$330 Million
11Pad Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct a pad abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The scenario where an abort is initiated while the CTS is still on the pad is a design driver for the launch abort system as it dictates the total impulse and also requires parachute deployment in close proximity to the ground.December 2013Pending$30 Million
12Dragon Primary Structure Qualification. SpaceX will conduct static structural testing of all Dragon primary structure components to ultimate load factors, as applicable. This series of tests will validate the Dragon structure’s ability to maintain integrity during all driving load cases as well as verify the accuracy of math models used to analyze the Dragon structure. Individual tests will be designed to exercise all credible failure modes and minimum margin areas.January 2014Pending$30 Million
13Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR). SpaceX will hold an Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR) to demonstrate that the maturity of the CTS design is appropriate to support proceeding with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test.March 2014Pending$40 Million
14In-Flight Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The in-flight abort test will supplement the pad abort test and complete the corners-of-the-box stress cases. The in-flight abort scenario represents a Dragon abort while under propulsive flight of the launch vehicle during the worst-case dynamic loads on the CTS.April 2014Pending$30 Million
TOTAL:$460 Million