SpaceX Crew Dragon parachute system failed during April test

The parachute system for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft failed during an April test, damaging a test vehicle as it came down for landing, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight said Wednesday.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator of human exploration and operations, told a congressional panel that three of Crew Dragon’s four parachutes “did not operate properly” during a previously undisclosed test at Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. The revelation came in response to questions from Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., whose district includes NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

When pressed by Brooks to “get more specific,” Gerstenmaier said a test sled that was suspended beneath the parachutes was “damaged upon impact with the ground.” The problem occurred during a “single-out test,” in which one parachute is “proactively failed” to see if the other three chutes could land the capsule without damage.

“We did not get the results we wanted, but we learned some information that’s going to affect, potentially, future parachute designs,” Gerstenmaier said according to a video of the hearing by the space subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

SpaceX is one of NASA’s two Commercial Crew providers, which the agency is relying on to restore the country’s ability to launch astronauts into orbit.

NASA and SpaceX are investigating why the three chutes failed, but Gerstenmaier said he is “very comfortable” the problem would be solved.

“We’ve gotten data that is unique that will help us design, understand if this is something that needs to be fixed or if it’s something that was just a nuance of the test and the configuration,” he said.

Gerstenmaier did not comment on how the test might affect SpaceX’s first crewed launch of Crew Dragon, nor did the committee ask. SpaceX confirmed last week that one of its six Crew Dragon capsules was destroyed during an April 20 test of the SuperDraco abort engines, the powerful thrusters meant to push the capsule away from the rocket if there’s a problem during launch.

Related Topics

Human Spaceflight

SpaceX Crew Dragon parachute system failed during April test