NASA Successfully Tests Orion’s Parachute Backup System
December 21, 2012

NASA Successfully Tests Orion Spacecraft’s Parachute Backup System

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA has completed a series of parachute tests for its Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This latest achievement for the future NASA spacecraft marks another step towards achieving its first flight test in 2014.

The space agency said the test helped to verify that Orion will be able to land safely even if one of its two drogue parachutes does not open during descent.

The end goal for Orion is to utilize the spacecraft to take astronauts farther into space than they have ever been before, and then to bring the crew home safely.

Orion will reenter the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of more than 20,000 miles per hour. After reentry, the parachutes will lower the capsule carrying astronauts back to Earth.

"The mockup vehicle landed safely in the desert and everything went as planned," Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion's parachute assembly system, said in a press release. "We designed the parachute system so nothing will go wrong, but plan and test as though something will so we can make sure Orion is the safest vehicle ever to take humans to space."

Orion uses five parachutes, three of which measure 116 feet wide in diameter, and two are drogue parachutes measuring 23-feet wide. The 21,000-pound capsule actually only needs two main parachutes and one drogue. The extra two parachutes provide a backup in case one of the primary parachutes fails.

During the latest test, engineers dropped a spacecraft mockup from a plane 25,000 feet above the Arizona desert and simulated a failure of one of the drogues. About 30 seconds into the mockup's fall, the second drogue parachute opened and slowed down the craft´s descent enough for the three main parachutes to take over.

NASA said that its next scheduled Orion parachute test will be in February, during which it will simulate a failure of one of the three main parachutes.

An unmanned Orion spacecraft launch is scheduled for 2014 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During this test, the spacecraft will be traveling 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. This is 15 times farther than the International Space Station's (ISS) orbit. It is also farther than any human-manned spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years.

The main flight objective during the 2014 test is to try out Orion's heat shield performance at speeds generated during a return from deep space.