NASA tests Orion spacecraft parachute jettison over Arizona

January 17, 2014

Engineers testing the parachute system for NASA's Orion spacecraft increased the complexity of their tests Thursday, Jan. 16, adding the jettison of hardware designed to keep the capsule safe during flight.

The test was the first to give engineers in-air data on the performance of the system that jettisons Orion's forward bay cover. The cover is a shell that fits over Orion's to protect the spacecraft during launch, orbital flight and re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. When Orion returns from space, the cover must come off before the spacecraft's parachutes can deploy. It must be jettisoned high above the ground in order for the parachutes to unfurl.

"This was a tough one," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "We'd done our homework, of course, but there were elements here that could only be tested in the air, with the entire system working together. It's one of the most complicated tests that we'll do, so we were all excited to see it work just as it was meant to."

Previous parachute tests at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona tested the performance of the parachutes in various conditions without a forward bay cover. Adding the cover and its jettison, along with the deployment of three additional parachutes to pull the cover away from the crew module and lower it to the ground, added a level of complexity to the testing.

"The parachute deployment and forward bay cover jettisons are two of the most difficult things for us to model on computers," said Chris Johnson, project manager for the parachutes. "That's why we test them so extensively. These systems have to work for Orion to make it safely to the ground, and every bit of data we can gather in tests like these helps us improve our models and gives us more confidence that when we do it for real, we can count on them."

The forward bay cover is jettisoned using a thruster separation system built by Systima Technologies Inc. of Bothell, Wash. Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for Orion, tested the system for the first time on the ground in December. Two more ground tests will simulate different types of stresses on the cover, such as a potential parachute failure or loads on the spacecraft. NASA also plans a second airborne test with the forward bay cover to evaluate its performance with a failed parachute.

Orion will be put to its first test in space during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), in September. EFT-1 will have an uncrewed Orion launch to an orbit 3,600 miles above Earth, well beyond the distance traveled by spacecraft built for humans in more than 40 years. After circling Earth twice, Orion will re-enter the atmosphere at speeds as fast as 20,000 mph before the system slows it down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Explore further: NASA completes Orion spacecraft parachute testing in Arizona

Related Stories

NASA completes Orion spacecraft parachute testing in Arizona

September 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 ...

Drop test for Orion crew capsule's new parachutes

April 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 ...

NASA puts Orion backup parachutes to the test

December 21, 2012

(—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. ...

Recommended for you

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...

Researchers find a new way to weigh a star

October 5, 2015

Researchers from the University of Southampton have developed a new method for measuring the mass of pulsars – highly magnetised rotating neutron stars formed from the remains of massive stars after they explode into supernovae.

NASA selects investigations for future key planetary mission

October 1, 2015

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. Three of those chosen have ties to NASA's Jet Propulsion ...


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.