NASA completed another successful test Wednesday of the Orion crew vehicle’s parachutes high above the Arizona desert in preparation for the spacecraft’s orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry astronauts deeper into space than ever before, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure a safe re-entry and landing.
A C-17 plane dropped a test version of Orion from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This test was the second to use an Orion craft that mimics the full size and shape of the spacecraft.
Orion’s drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 feet and 20,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes, which deployed the main landing parachutes. Orion descended about 25 feet per second, well below its maximum designed touchdown speed, when it landed on the desert floor.
“Across the country, NASA and industry are moving forward on the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, conducting drop and splashdown tests, preparing ground systems, designing software and computers and paving the way for the future of exploration,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Today’s parachute test in Yuma is an important reminder of the progress being made on Orion and its ultimate mission — enabling NASA to meet the goal of sending humans to an asteroid and Mars.”
The main objective of the latest drop test was to determine how the entire system would respond if one of the three main parachutes inflated too quickly. This occurs when what is known as a reefing stage, which helps the parachutes open gradually, is skipped, due to a premature firing of the reefing line cutter. Orion’s two reefing stages help limit the initial amount of drag and force on the parachute system.