SpaceX has successfully carried out a drop test for the four main parachutes that will form the principal stage of the Crew Dragon's descent system. The test, and many others like it, are a necessary step required to be completed by the next-gen spacecraft in order for SpaceX to fulfill its obligations under NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
The drop trial made use of a mass simulator rather than a full mock spacecraft – the preferred method of testing for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft and NASA's own Orion spacecraft. That said, according to NASA, SpaceX plans to switch to a full mock capsule as the descent system testing becomes more advanced.
During the test, the mass simulator was dropped from thousands of feet in the air from the back of a C-130 aircraft, deploying four main parachutes using the exact same deployment techniques that would be employed with a dragon capsule returning crew members from the ISS. It is worth noting however that the test was not of the entire parachute system, as the drop did not include the drogue chutes that would ordinarily precede the four main chutes.
The first missions undertaken by the Crew Dragon to transport and return astronauts to low-Earth orbit would require the capsule to descend under the more conventional parachute system outlined above, culminating in an ocean landing.
However, SpaceX envisions a more ambitious deceleration technique that would one day see the spacecraft make its final descent under the power of eight SuperDraco engines built into the walls of the capsule.
The company assessed the capabilities of the integrated SuperDraco thrusters in a live fire test on Nov. 24 at its rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. During the test, the capsule successfully raised itself into a hover position for a period of around five seconds.
Scroll down for footage of the drop test, courtesy of NASA.