SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft successfully completes high altitude drop test
Santa Ana, California - 12 August, 2010
SpaceX recently completed its first Dragon high altitude drop test and it was 100% successful! The purpose of the test was to validate the Dragon's parachute deployment systems and recovery operations prior to the first flight of an operational Dragon later this year.
The drop occurred on August 12, 2010 about nine miles off the coast from the scenic town of Morro Bay, CA-- 45 miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base. An Erickson S-64F Air-Crane helicopter dropped a test article of the Dragon spacecraft from a distance of 14,000 feet, directly above the center of a 6 mile diameter Pacific Ocean test zone. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual redundant drogue parachutes deployed first to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues then triggered the release of the main parachutes, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft, allowing the main parachutes to deploy. While Dragon will initially be used to transport cargo, the spacecraft was designed to transport crew. The parachute system validated during the drop test is the same system that would be used on a crew-carrying Dragon. The three main parachutes, designed and manufactured by Airborne Systems, are particularly large--each measuring 116 feet in diameter when fully deployed. The oversized parachutes are key in ensuring a comfortable landing for crew members. After the drogues stabilize the spacecraft, the main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's decent to approximately 16-18 ft/sec which makes for a very soft landing. Even if Dragon were to lose one of its main parachutes, the two remaining chutes would still ensure a pretty soft landing for the crew. Under nominal conditions, astronauts would experience no more than roughly 2-3 g's during this type of decent—less than you'd experience at an amusement park.