NASA puts Orion backup parachutes to the test

Dec 21, 2012 by Rachel Kraft & Brandi Dean
NASA puts Orion backup parachutes to the test
A mockup Orion capsule touches down in the desert of the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona with the help of its three 300-pound main parachutes, after being dropped from an airplane 25,000 feet up. The test verified that the parachute design for the spacecraft – which will take humans farther than they’ve ever been before and return them to Earth at greater speeds than ever before – will work in the event of one of the capsule’s two drogue parachutes malfunctions. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org)—NASA completed the latest in a series of parachute tests for its Orion spacecraft Thursday at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona, marking another step toward a first flight test in 2014. The test verified Orion can land safely even if one of its two drogue parachutes does not open during descent.

Orion will take humans farther into space than ever before, but one of the most challenging things the multipurpose vehicle will do is bring its crew home safely. Because it will return from greater distances, Orion will reenter the Earth's at speeds of more than 20,000 mph. After re-entry, the parachutes are all that will lower the capsule carrying back to Earth.

"The mockup vehicle landed safely in the desert and everything went as planned," said Chris Johnson, a project manager for Orion's assembly system. "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 are main parachutes measuring 116 feet wide and two are drogue parachutes measuring 23 feet wide. The 21,000-pound capsule needs only two main parachutes and one drogue. The extra two provide a backup in case one of the primary parachutes fails.

To verify Orion could land safely with only one drogue parachute, 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 the mockup down enough for the three main parachutes to take over the descent.

The next Orion parachute test is scheduled for February and will simulate a failure of one of the three main parachutes.

In 2014, an uncrewed will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Exploration -1. The spacecraft will travel 3,600 miles above 's surface. This is 15 times farther than the International Space Station's orbit and farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone in more than 40 years. The main flight objective is to test Orion's heat shield performance at speeds generated during a return from deep space.

Explore further: Video gives astronaut's-eye view inside NASA's Orion spacecraft

More information: For information about Orion, visit: www.nasa.gov/orion

Related Stories

NASA completes Orion spacecraft parachute testing in Arizona

Sep 23, 2011

NASA this week completed the first in a series of flight-like parachute tests for the agency's Orion spacecraft. The drop tests at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona support the design and development of the ...

Nasa conducts new parachute test for Orion

Mar 02, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- On Feb. 29, NASA successfully conducted another drop test of the Orion crew vehicle's entry, descent and landing parachutes high above the Arizona desert in preparation for the vehicle's orbital ...

Drop test for Orion crew capsule's new parachutes

Apr 11, 2012

NASA successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle’s entry, descent and landing parachutes in preparation for the vehicle’s first orbital flight test, currently scheduled for 2014. Orion is the crew ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.