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SpaceX succesfully drop-tests Dragon capsule

August 20, 2010 |  6:02 pm


Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Dragon spacecraft, a cargo capsule that might one day carry astronauts into space, was successful in its first high-altitude drop test, the company said Friday.

The drop occurred Aug. 12 about 9 miles off the coast near Morro Bay, or 45 miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Watch the video here.

The Hawthorne company, better known as SpaceX, said the purpose of the test was to make sure the Dragon's parachute deployment systems and recovery operations worked properly.

According to SpaceX, the Dragon spacecraft was dropped from a helicopter at 14,000 feet hovering over a Pacific Ocean test zone. Three main parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, stabilized the craft, slowing its descent to about 16 to 18 feet per second for a “very soft landing.”

Achieving a smooth landing is crucial for SpaceX, which is considered to be a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the Space Shuttle program is mothballed in 2011. The Dragon will transport cargo to the station for NASA starting next year, but it was also designed to carry a crew.

"We are proving, every day, that the future of American missions to space will rely on American made commercial companies," Elon Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, said in a statement.

SpaceX successfully launched its 18-story Falcon 9 rocket in June. It plans to blast the Dragon into space atop the rocket this year.

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo Credit: SpaceX