A recent parachute test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule “was not satisfactory,” a NASA official said during a House subcommittee hearing yesterday. Few details were disclosed, but it’s now looking even less likely that NASA will have the capability to fly astronauts to space anytime soon.
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing in Washington, DC, yesterday to discuss NASA’s plans to go to the Moon, and how the accelerated lunar timeline might affect the larger goal of sending humans to Mars. During the meeting, however, the conversation turned to a previously undisclosed incident that happened last month at Nevada’s Delamar Dry Lake during a test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon parachute system.
“The test was not satisfactory,” replied Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, in response to a question posed by Alabama Congressman Morris Brooks. “We did not get the results we wanted, but we learned some information that’s going to affect, potentially, future parachute designs,” said Gerstenmaier.
When asked what he meant by unwanted results, the NASA official said the testing apparatus was “damaged upon impact with the ground.”
In an email to Gizmodo, a SpaceX spokesperson confirmed the incident, saying it was an “advanced development test” designed to measure the stresses endured by the parachutes. Rather than use an actual Crew Dragon capsule, however, SpaceX used a simple metal test sled. During the test, the parachutes didn’t fully open and the sled hit the ground at “a higher than expected velocity,” according to the spokesperson, adding that no one was hurt and no property damage occurred at the test site.
As to the cause of the failure, Gerstenmaier was unable to provide an answer.
“We still need to understand whether it was a test setup configuration coming out of the aircraft or if there was something associated with the packing of the parachute, the rigging, all that,” he told the Committee. During the failed test, the loads within each parachute canopy were recorded, and this data will be used during the investigation, he said.
Why do SpaceX tests fail so often? Would it have anything to do with the working culture Elon Musk instills everywhere he goes?