NASA is one of the world’s most capable space agencies, but a crippling budget prevents it from developing a new space vehicle of its own. Instead, NASA buys seats on Russia’s tried and true Soyuz spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station, but that’s set to change. In the near future, NASA plans to bring crewed space launches back to American soil, and it will do this by investing in domestic commercial space companies like Boeing and SpaceX.
Both companies are carefully designing and testing their astronaut-ready space vehicles, but SpaceX seems to be moving along much more quickly. The company’s Dragon spacecraft is perhaps one the most advanced designs we’ve seen yet, and despite a successful Demo 1 mission, the Dragon spacecraft had an unfortunate accident in a different test afterward. SpaceX took this failure very seriously, and in an upcoming Demo 2 mission, it will attempt to prove the spacecraft’s improved safety features to NASA and the rest of the world.
The next phase of SpaceX’s safety testing is to prove the capabilities of Dragon’s mid-air abort system. This will utilize Dragon’s Super Draco thrusters in mid-air and call upon the help of a brand-new parachute system as the spacecraft returns to Earth. When this happens, Dragon will be pushed more than half of a mile away from the Falcon 9 rocket in mid-air.
The new parachute system utilizes a new material that is up to 10 times stronger than the previous material, and Elon Musk is stoked to prove its worthiness to NASA. Assuming everything goes smoothly, SpaceX will be well on its way to taking humans to outer space in the foreseeable future.