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Parachutes Pop Open Perfectly in SpaceX Test

SpaceX Parachute Test
SpaceX successfully tested parachutes that will be used on its Dragon spacecraft to bring human passengers back to Earth. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's Dragon is on track. A recent video shows a smooth parachute test for the SpaceX space capsule that will one day ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

In the latest Dragon parachute test video, four red-and-white chutes helped a simulated spacecraft descend to the desert near Coolidge, Arizona, after the system was released from a C-130 cargo aircraft. A Dragon spacecraft was not actually involved in the test. Instead, SpaceX used a mass simulator connected to the parachute system. [SpaceX's Dragon Crew Capsule in Pictures]

Dragon has already been used to haul cargo to and from the International Space Station, but SpaceX is now working on a new system to carry up humans starting around 2018. The company is performing final development and certification work for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"SpaceX continues to perform tests of flight-like hardware that allows engineers to assess the reliability," NASA officials said in a statement. "Later tests will grow progressively more realistic to simulate as much of the actual conditions and processes the system will see during an operational mission."

The first versions of the spacecraft will splash down in ocean, but SpaceX plans to eventually land the spacecraft on land by firing eight SuperDraco engines. SpaceX tested this hover-power ability in Texas in November.

SpaceX and Boeing are working on separate agreements with NASA to bring astronauts to low-Earth orbit destinations. Separately, NASA is also working on developing an Orion spacecraft for missions to the moon, asteroids or other locations deeper in space.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.