NASA and SpaceX study lagging parachute problem. Nothing to worry about?

The two organizations held a conference where they claimed all was well with the parachutes.
Loukia Papadopoulos
NASA's Crew-2 landing webcast on Nov. 8, 2021NASA TV

When it comes to parachutes deployed in spacecraft, their functioning could mean life or death for astronauts. That's why it was quite worrisome to hear that officials from NASA and SpaceX were working on a parachute issue with the Dragon spacecraft, according to Ars TechnicaLuckily, the team of researchers said the issue would not be too hard to fix and did not pose a threat to future missions.

Plenty of parachutes on the Dragon

SpaceX's Dragon is equipped with four powerful parachutes to slow the capsule upon its return from orbit right before it impacts the sea. This means that if something goes wrong with one parachute, the spacecraft can still land safely using any of the remaining parachutes.

In 2020 and 2021 spacecraft landings, all four parachutes functioned as they should. However, during a November 2021 mission, one of the four parachutes experienced a glitch: it was delayed by 75 seconds before fully inflating. The spacecraft still managed to land as planned but the incident did give some cause for worry. NASA and SpaceX investigated the matter and concluded that it posed no serious threat to future spaceflights until it happened again.

This time it was Space News that reported the incident: on January 24, 2021, during a mission, one of four parachutes delayed its inflation by 63 seconds. The spacecraft, however, still landed safely.

Missions still safe

NASA did address the incident in a teleconference with reporters. In it, SpaceX senior engineer Bill Gerstenmaier took the time to explain why he saw the accident as an opportunity to improve their protocols and why he believed NASA/SpaceX missions were still fully safe.

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"This is a super chance for us to learn," he said. "I consider this almost a gift that we got on CRS-24. We're going to get a chance to now have two sets of data that we can play against each other to improve our models and improve our knowledge and actually make a much safer system for everyone using these parachutes in the future."

In March of 2020, a parachute test that went wrong threatened to force the Crew Dragon launch to be delayed, an indication that both NASA and SpaceX take these matters very seriously. It is safe to say that if the space agency and the rocket builder deem their parachutes fit for travel then they are good to go! Safe travels!

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