IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

SpaceX Fires Up Dragon Crew Capsule in Hover Test

Crew capsules of the future may skip the parachute and opt for a powered, helicopter-like descent, if SpaceX's new tests are any indication.

Crew capsules like SpaceX's Dragon may not always return to earth under a parachute canopy: Instead, powerful engines could slow its descent and let it come to soft, helicopter-like landing.

The commercial spaceflight company's latest test shows the capsule hovering as it might just before landing, using eight high-powered "SuperDraco" engines.

The Dragon is attached to a tether, but if you look closely (it's easier in the slow-motion repeat) you can see that the cable is slack while the engines are firing, and there's almost no vertical or lateral movement — a very successful hover maneuver.

Related: Mars Ahead? SpaceX Unveils Dragon V2 Capsule for Astronaut Trips

This test was performed in November and only just now is the video being shown, but don't expect to see the first commercial crewed missions use this experimental technique. Until it has been perfected and tested to the satisfaction of everyone involved, from NASA to SpaceX and everyone in between, parachutes will still be the descent method of choice.