Orion Parachute Tests Adds '10,000 Feet of Success'
July 25, 2013

Parachute Test For Orion Successful – New Heights Reached

[ Watch the Video: Orion Parachutes Pass the Test ]

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA's new Orion spacecraft can land safely even if one of its parachutes fails, a new complicated, high-altitude test demonstrated on Wednesday.

This test was the 10th in a series of evaluations designed to check out the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system. The test capsule was dropped from a C-17 aircraft at its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert. The spacecraft was left to land with only two parachutes after one of the three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose. This test, at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground, was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since the Apollo program.

Previously, a mock Orion capsule was dropped from a height of 25,000 feet, and the parachutes were deployed at no higher than 22,000 feet. The additional 10,000 feet of altitude made the 10th test the best so far of Orion's parachute flight and landing.

"The closer we can get to actual flight conditions, the more confidence we gain in the system," said Chris Johnson, project manager for the Orion capsule parachute assembly system at NASA's Johnson Space Center. "What we saw today - other than the failures we put in on purpose - is very similar to what Orion will look like coming back during Exploration Flight Test-1's Earth entry next year."

When Orion returns to Earth from space, the parachute system will begin to deploy at 25,000 feet above the ground.

The engineering team collected data on the effects of losing a parachute during the descent. Previous tests proved Orion can land with just two parachutes, this test was the first chance to study how one parachute pulling away during descent might affect the remaining two.

"We wanted to know what would happen if a cable got hooked around a sharp edge and snapped off when the parachutes deployed," said Stu McClung, Orion's landing and recovery system manager at Johnson. "We don't think that would ever happen, but if it did, would it cause other failures? We want to know everything that could possibly go wrong, so that we can fix it before it does."

The test series will enable NASA to certify Orion to carry humans into space. The parachute system has already met the necessary requirements for Orion's first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), which will launch in September 2014. During EFT-1, Orion will travel 3,600 miles into orbit then return to Earth at speeds as fast as 20,000 mph, putting the parachute system to the test again as it lands in the Pacific Ocean.