August 25, 2015 – Engineers are preparing to test the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system on Wednesday, August 26, at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. During the test, a C-17 aircraft will carry a mockup of the Orion capsule to an altitude of 35,000 feet and then drop it from the plane’s cargo bay to evaluate how Orion fares when the parachute system does not perform as expected.
On August 24, a C-17 was loaded with the test version of Orion, which has a similar mass and interfaces with the parachutes as the Orion being developed for deep space missions but is shorter on top to fit inside the aircraft.
Engineers will carry out a scenario in which one of the spacecraft’s two drogue parachutes, used to stabilize it in the air, does not deploy, and one of its three main parachutes, used to slow the capsule during the final stage of descent, also does not deploy.
This risky test will provide data engineers will use as they gear up to qualify Orion’s parachutes for missions with astronauts.
The Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, including to an asteroid and Mars. The spacecraft will serve as the exploration vehicle that carrier crews to space, provides emergency abort capabilities, sustains the crew during space travel, and provides safe re-entry from deep space. Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.
Orion’s parachutes, critical to the safe return of the spacecraft to Earth, performed flawlessly during the spacecraft’s uncrewed flight test in December 2014, helping slow the capsule from its high-speed re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere from approximately 20,000 mph to about 20 mph when the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
Colorado-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems leads the Orion industry team as the prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft.