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SpaceX Completes Dragon Parachute Test 83

mattclar writes "SpaceX just released footage and pictures of last week's Dragon parachute drop test. Using an Erickson Air-Crane, the Dragon capsule was carried to 14,000 feet, then released. After a few seconds of freefall, the drouge chutes appeared, followed by the main chutes. The test concluded with a gentle touchdown within the target area to conclude a test described by SpaceX as '100% successful.'"
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SpaceX Completes Dragon Parachute Test

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  • Very nice. Now, about that 'getting people up to space in the first place for less than $10k/lb' part...

    Seriously though, it's good to see things coming along.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by Senes ( 928228 )
      That's just it; this specific technology is entirely concerned with the trip home from space - it doesn't appear to have any bearing on the cost of getting into space. The lifting technology is what will make it easier for us to build fancy stuff in orbit and beyond.

      As a matter of fact I feel hard pressed to understand just what about this is actually a new development, but if people are working hard to overcome the obstacles then all the flashy bits that look good on the television are a lower priority.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by osu-neko ( 2604 )
        Getting people home safely is part of the cost of getting them into space, unless you're planning for strictly one-way trips.
        • Getting people home safely is part of getting repeat business for your trip into space business. But nobody EVER claimed anywhere that an astronaut has to survive his trip for it to count as a journey into space.

          Or are you saying that if I die on my trip to Australia (and may god have mercy on my soul) I have never visited Australia? Would make the entry into heaven a bit easier but somehow I think it will still be held against me.

          • by osu-neko ( 2604 )
            That's a poor analogy. A better one is this: if your plane takes off for Australia, but they haven't figured out how to land it yet and they just crash on landing, killing you and everyone else on board, does this really count as a successful flight?
      • Re:Nice... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Arlet ( 29997 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:32AM (#33322222)

        There's not much that you can do to improve fundamental technology to go into space, but they can still try to make things as cheap and low-weight as possible. Every kilogram that you take off the re-entry system is another kilogram of useful payload that you can take up.

        • by shnull ( 1359843 )
          i don't know. IF at all possible the elevator might make it pretty cheap if combined with a huge orbital docking station where ships can actually be built. Eliminating the cost of liftoff and escaping the biggest part of the gravity well of earth might make a significant difference. But, since we still have to go and impose our morals all over the world i'm afraid by the time we get out of the elevator we'll be welcomed by a nice young lady going 'ni hao' :)
      • Re:Nice... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @08:14AM (#33323034) Homepage Journal

        As if SpaceX is having a problem with getting stuff into space. If they were having some serious problems with getting that task accomplished, I would agree that this test would be a relatively non-issue...

        But the vehicle for getting into space has already flown that this capsule is going to be sitting on top of. I should note here too that SpaceX has also announced with this test what the flight profile is going to be like for the next Falcon 9 flight:

        During the Dragon's orbital shakedown later this year, the ship will cruise around Earth between one and three times, fire its Draco maneuvering thrusters and fall into the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the coast of Los Angeles near the Channel Islands.

        The flight could last from less than two hours to five hours, depending on SpaceX's final decision on its duration.

        --- Spaceflight Now []

        This drop test was mainly to test the parachute system and to establish the recovery procedures for when this next flight is going to happen that will make it to orbit. Rather than using an entire Air Carrier task force from the U.S. Navy (how the Apollo and Gemini capsules were recovered), SpaceX is using a fleet of three boats that are all about the size of the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan's Island. That is a huge deal and I hope the cost savings for that difference in the recovery fleet should be glaringly obvious.

        The point here too is that SpaceX is very close to having a full fledged spacecraft that can go up into space, maneuver around while up there, and safely bring cargo back down from orbit. Besides the Soyuz, Space Shuttle, and Shenzhou spacecraft, the Dragon will be the only one currently capable of doing that sort of mission profile. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle next year, the Dragon will be the only American spacecraft to be capable of doing this and it will also be only the second vehicle that you can put money onto the table to simply purchase a flight into space (after the Soyuz). Given the reluctance of the Russians to permit that kind of flight and the demand they have for at least two Russian cosmonauts to be involved, the Dragon offers an even more unique perspective for being able to bring stuff back home or to go up into space if you need a pressurized cargo capacity.

        Yes, both Orbital Science and Boeing are in the process of building orbital spacecraft that will be capable of returning back to the Earth.... but at what stage in the development of those vehicles are they at? What is NASA working on for their own space-capable vehicle? Please don't tell me that the Ares I with the Orion capsule is going to be oh so much better.... if that is even going to be built at all.

        • by M1FCJ ( 586251 )

          Does anyone remember the first similar test on Orion actually ended smashing the capsule to the ground due to failed parachutes? And the pig farmers in Congress still want to get some pork....

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Teancum ( 67324 )

            I think this is the test you were talking about:


            The picture in that test is a bit ugly too, and I'd be glad that my life didn't depend upon the parachutes working. For those posters on this story that assert this was a "useless" test that didn't really prove anything, I hope that at least some of those would be pointed to this story to see what happens when a test of this nature goes wrong. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a capsule if the kind o

    • Re:Nice... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @07:38AM (#33322876)
      If my goal was to build the worlds fastest car would you be pissed at me building a car seat? It isn't exciting as a new engine or anything like that but they have to make one.

      Also, their launch costs (listed on their site) to LEO are $2.3k/lb for cargo ($5.5k/lb to GTO). They aren't sending people up yet since their spacecraft isn't ready yet. And coincidentally this story is about them currently working on the dragon spacecraft (which is what they are sending people up in). So they ARE working on exactly what you want.....
      • Re:Nice... (Score:4, Informative)

        by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @11:09AM (#33324498) Journal

        Also, their launch costs (listed on their site) to LEO are $2.3k/lb for cargo ($5.5k/lb to GTO).

        It's also worth noting that this is their launch price, not their cost. They actually expect to make a decent profit at this price, and Elon has stated that he plans on lowering the price further as he gets into mass production and successful reuse of rocket components.

  • One wit(l/n)ess said "The chute was a pretty shade of rogue, and it slowed down like a sports car hitting the breaks!"

  • by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <EnsilZah AT Gmail DOT com> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:19AM (#33322024)

    As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.
    I may follow Elon in retiring to Mars yet.

    • I was alive during that time (well, technically - I was born less than 24 hours before Apollo 11 launched), and yeah, it is exciting. After the whole political bullshit from the post-Apollo years, it's good to see something actually moving forward again, even if it took folks other than NASA to do it.

    • As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.

      As someone who was alive during the Apollo years[and the Mercury and Gemini years], I agree wholeheartedly; it was, and still is exciting. [] [I got the same goosebumps on launch, and was amazed at the vid quality and abundance!]

      And you youngsters get added bonuses:
      1. Better and higher quality coverage of the 'into space' events[see linked video in TFS]. Almost/or real time!
      2. The internet.[see above]
      3. Competition to drive 'Rocket Scientists®' to innovate again. 'Back then', it was USA astronauts vs. USS

      • by CptNerd ( 455084 )

        I remember when they invented dirt...

        When I was a kid I followed every launch from Glenn onward, and I have to say it was kind of nostalgic to see a capsule hanging down from three chutes like that. I hope I can make it long enough to see Bigelow get his hotels started (I have no illusions of ever being able to go into space like I wanted to when I was a kid).

        • I hope I can make it long enough to see Bigelow get his hotels started

          Speaking of which, how are his Genesis test modules holding up?
      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        One thing that is certainly going to be different is the ability to have the miniature cameras in odd places that didn't exist before. I certainly liked the camera placed on the outside of the Dragon spacecraft that showed the whole splashdown from the perspective of a fly sitting on the outside of the capsule. Such a view perspective wasn't even possible during the Apollo era, where instead if they were lucky there was a U.S. Navy helicopter that had the one ton television camera in an otherwise stripped

    • As someone who wasn't alive during the Apollo years, it's pretty exciting for me to see a company that might actually make travel to space sustainable.

      Since 'sustainable' is an utterly meaningless buzzword - I fail to see your point.

  • It seems designed to hit feet first, a bit like gemini, rather than slapping directly into the water with the heat shield completely level. With the parachutes attached on the side of the hatch, heads would presumably be towards the hatch.

    • Re:Not level (Score:5, Informative)

      by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:46AM (#33322102)

      This ties in with the overall design of the Dragon capsule, which is designed to re-enter with a non-perpendicular angle of attack: presumably to provide some lift to allow some cross-range maneuvering, though it might also help the ergonomics inside the capsule. The heat shield and everything else is designed asymmetrically: presumably the parachutes are set up the same way. [] []

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by CoolGopher ( 142933 )

      I voted [60] Stephen Conroy.

      As did I. Here's hoping a few more did!

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        I voted [60] Stephen Conroy.

        As did I. Here's hoping a few more did!

        I don't think we get the senate vote tonight unfortunately. I actually stuffed up voting below the line. I reached the end minus 1 (saving the last for Conroy) at 57, and found that I had voted 10 and 11 twice. 10 is easy to turn into 58, 11 becomes 59.

        I am actually just a few K outside the seat of Melbourne. There is no hope, unfortunately, of Wills going to the greens.

        • I admit I stuffed up my first senate sheet too - it's too damn wide to fit into those cramped booths, and I missed an entire column due to it folding over onto itself. Had to get a fresh sheet and start over, which was a bit embarrassing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      SpaceX eventually wants to land this sucker on the ground instead of splashing down to save recovery costs. They will need retrorockets and landing gears to do this. I think the landing angle is designed to accommodate a future landing gear.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        They should try a Rogallo wing []. You can flare it close to the ground and get a (fairly) soft landing. A wing similar to modern parasails would give similar results.

        • Re:Not level (Score:5, Insightful)

          by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @05:13AM (#33322434)

          Mercury: big round parachute. Gemini: big round parachute. Apollo: 3 big round parachutes. Soyuz: big round parachute. Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit/Opportunity: big round parachutes.

          Self-deploying Rogallo wing: a couple of grainy Apollo-era NASA development photos, a few small-scale models built by enthusiasts, never actually used in a mission-critical application.

          Given that SpaceX's goal is to get into space reliably and cheaply, not to spend billions reinventing the parachute, which would you pick?

          Parasails are more feasible, but 3 big round parachutes have one clear advantage: if one fails, you can land on the other two. You can't deploy multiple parasails from the same vehicle.

          • I take your point, but engineering businesses like SpaceX need to make the right technical decisions to be a commercial success. The best way to land a capsule on Earth may actually be a fully powered descent. You can save a lot of mass in the escape system by doing that.

            • Fully powered descent (without relying on aerobraking at all) is impossible. You need to double your delta-V to around 16 km/sec, which is impossible with chemical engines.

              Partial aerobrake with retro-rockets for the final touchdown are possible, but then you don't save anything.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                Partial aerobrake with retro-rockets for the final touchdown are possible, but then you don't save anything.

                Thats what I mean. What you save is the mass of a heavy launch escape system. The Apollo LES was huge because it had to lift the CM high enough for the parachutes to work. If you build in thrusters which can land the vehicle then they function as an LES as well as a landing system. It gives you more control over your landing site too.

                • Not sure it's a win. The weight of a launch escape system doesn't impact total system weight much since it is jettisoned shortly after launch. Thrusters and their fuel would be carried all the way to orbit, so their mass would come out of the payload.

                  You also want the launch escape system to carry you far out of the exploding fireball that may be a failed launch.

                  • Not sure it's a win. The weight of a launch escape system doesn't impact total system weight much since it is jettisoned shortly after launch.

                    As an example, Apollo jettisoned its escape tower after Saturn V second-stage burnout. Which translates to nearly LEO, since most of the deltaV from the third stage was used for injection into the transfer orbit to the moon.

                    Since you pretty much have to dump the escape tower when none of the boosters are boosting, and Falcon 9 is only a two-stage rocket, you're goin

                • by Teancum ( 67324 )

                  The SpaceX Dragon is going to carry its LES all of the way to orbit, although I think SpaceX is planning on using the propellant mass + rocket nozzles for maneuvering in orbit rather than as something for landing on the ground. Basically it gives them an extra safety margin for whatever it is that they plan on doing in space.

                  I'm not so sure how that is going to work, where the thrusters also can act as an emergency escape system too as the requirements seem to be a bit different, but that seems to be the c

  • Drouge? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Red_Chaos1 ( 95148 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @02:53AM (#33322124)
    What is a Drouge []? Perhaps that should say drogue [] instead? $lt;/Grammar nazi$gt;
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Saturday August 21, 2010 @12:07PM (#33325022) Homepage Journal
    Clearly NASA could have done the same thing for a billion dollars, thereby creating much-needed high tech jobs for H-1b guest workers looking for a better life here in the US. I don't understand how anyone could celebrate this economic and humanitarian travesty.
  • Question for those in the know: is SpaceX leading a charmed life, or are they just incredibly good at managing their press lately? To hear the press release, this sounds like another home run for SpaceX.
    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      SpaceX has been having a string of successes lately. Admittedly they've put in a great deal of effort to get to this point and SpaceX has had its share of failures too.... so don't presume that this string of successes is inevitable either.

      One thing I will be saying about SpaceX is that their engineers have been doing their homework and trying desperately not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. If there has been a rocketry related accident report or for that matter any post-mortem report about a

  • "After a few seconds of freefall, the drouge chutes appeared..." It's DROGUE, not DROUGE, for anyone trying to look up the definition. Good info, otherwise.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982