NASA confirms SpaceX Crew Dragon Parachutes Test Failed

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends under its parachutes at the end of the Demo-1 test flight in March. A test of the parachutes for that spacecraft in April failed. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

SpaceX had experienced a problem during a test of its Crew Dragon parachute system in April, according to NASA at a House subcommittee hearing on May 8, 2019.

The goal of the hearing was to discuss NASA’s plan regarding sending humans back to the moon and how the hastened timeline could affect its goal of traveling to Mars. During questioning NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier revealed that in April at Nevada’s Delamar Dry Lake a test of the parachute system aboard the Crew Dragon capsule  “was not satisfactory.”

The “single-out” test, where one of the four parachutes is purposely turned off during descent in order to replicate a less than desirable landing. The remaining three parachutes did not, however, operate as expected. The parachute failure caused the metal sled, used instead of a SpaceX capsule, to approach the ground at “a higher than expected velocity”, causing the sled to make an impact with the ground.

Despite the undesired results, Gerstenmaier reassured the committee that he does not see this outcome as a negative, commenting rather “This is why we test. This is why we want to push things—this is a gift to us. We’ve gotten data that is unique that will help us design and understand if this is something that needs to be fixed or if it’s something that was a nuance of the test.”

During the hearing Chair of NASA’s Aerospace Safety and Advisory Panel, Patricia Sanders, shed light on the situation telling the committee that recently a “large number” of parachute tests have taken place for the Commercial Crew Program and stating there “have been a few less satisfactory results and some tests that are indicating that there may need to be some redesign or some adjustments made to the design,”

This latest setback has raised the question whether NASA is likely to follow through with crewed tests of the Dragon capsule later in 2019.