COOLIDGE, Ariz., Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The parachutes that will be used to slow the descent of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and help return ISS astronauts safely to Earth passed their latest round of testing.
The four red and white parachutes could be seen descending from Arizona's blue sky on Wednesday afternoon. The chutes were carried several thousand feet into the atmosphere by a C-130 cargo aircraft and relinquished to the forces of gravity.
An attached mass simulator mimicked the weight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which the aerospace company is developing with NASA to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing is working separately with NASA to build its own astronaut-taxiing vehicle.
As NASA reported in a blog update, Wednesday's successful test was part of the "final development and certification work with NASA's Commercial Crew Program."
The first flights as part of the ISS ferry service program are expected by late 2017 or early 2018. Initially, the parachutes will be used to slow the vessel before it splashes into the ocean. U.S. astronauts haven't landed in the ocean since the 1970s.
Eventually however, SpaceX wants the parachutes to be used only in case of emergency. It's currently working on rocket booster hovering technology that will allow the vessel to slowly descend and safely touch-down on a land-based landing pad.
The craft's hovering ability will be powered by eight SuperDraco rocket engines. SpaceX has been testing their hovering capabilities at their research facilities in Texas.