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SpaceX Conducts Hover Tests
by Staff Writers
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Feb 09, 2016

File image.

Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. (SpaceX) is developing a human-rated version of its Dragon capsule that will be capable of precision powered landings on the ground. In fact, the company has advanced to the point of conducting propulsive hover tests at its McGregor, Texas facility.

The uncrewed version of the Dragon capsule has been launched exclusively by SpaceX on its Falcon 9 two-stage launch vehicle since December 2010. It carries the distinction of being the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to be recovered successfully from orbit. In May 2012, a cargo variant of Dragon became the first commercial space vehicle to successfully rendezvous with ISS. As a result of the program success, SpaceX received a contract to deliver cargo to ISS under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) Program.

Dragon began regular cargo flights in October 2012.

The crewed version of this spacecraft is referred to as Dragon 2, and it will be capable of accommodating up to seven astronauts to and from ISS.

It will be flexible in terms of carrying a combination of crew and cargo. Thanks to program successes, SpaceX has received government contracts under such programs as Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev 2) and Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap).

Recent hover testing involved suspending the crew-configured capsule from a crane while simultaneously firing the vehicle's eight rocket engines. A total produced thrust was 33,000 lb. for a hover period of about five seconds. Not only did the vehicle exhibit a high level of stability in the hover mode, but this testing demonstrated SpaceX's special SuperDraco engines.

These regeneratively-cooled rockets are capable of deep-throttling and designed for multiple restarts. They use hypergolic nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) oxidizer and monomethylhydrazine (MMH) fuel. The SuperDraco is a high performance bipropellant, pressure-fed design that boasts a chamber pressure of around 1,000 psi. It utilizes a fuel-centered injector, designed to seal off both fuel and oxidizer from the combustion chamber and provide fast shut-off capability.

Future tests are likely to include at least two drops from a Skycrane helicopter from 10,000 ft. followed by landings under parachute and short rocket burns. Then, expect two further drops from the helicopter, followed by descents using rocket power alone.

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