Friday, August 20, 2010

SpaceX completes successful Dragon spacecraft high altitude drop test

In an email press release today, SpaceX announced a successful parachute test of the Dragon spacecraft. Congratulations!

"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. 

Credit: Roger Gilbertson/SpaceX

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. While the test article landed well within the targeted zone, the landing of an operational Dragon will be even more precise. With an operational Dragon, the landing location is controlled by firing the Draco thrusters during reentry, ensuring Dragon splashes down less than a mile from the desired landing site. Even that dispersion is only due to wind drift while Dragon is under the parachutes--if winds are low, Dragon's landing accuracy will be to within a few hundred feet. 

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

For initial crewed flights, Dragon will be recovered by helicopter and airlifted to shore. Our long term goal, however, is to land Dragon on land. Once we have proven our ability to control reentry accurately, we intend to add deployable landing gear and leverage the thrusters in order to land on land in the future.
During this particular drop test operation, Dragon was returned by boat and lifted onto its transport carrier via a bay-side crane.

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

 A drop test is historically a very difficult test to complete successfully, so congratulations to the entire Dragon drop team for achieving 100% success on their first attempt. In addition, SpaceX thanks the numerous individuals who were incredibly helpful in assisting with the execution of this test--a test of this size requires significant coordination between numerous parties and we greatly appreciate their help. In particular, SpaceX thanks the Dynegy Morro Bay Power Plant, Erickson Air-Crane, Angel City Air Aerial Photography, Associated Pacific Constructors of Morro Bay, Castagnola Tug Service, Morro Bay Harbor, Fire and Police Departments, US Coast Guard Morro Bay Station, The Federal Aviation Administration, Morro Bay Planning Division, Protech Express Towing, SloDivers, Centurion Private Security, Coast Diving Service and Woody Wordsworth at Radio Shack Morro Bay."
Source: SpaceX

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