Testing Sub-Scale Parachutes For NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

February 23, 2015 – In the skies above Eloy, Arizona, engineers are testing sub-scale parachutes for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The tests will help improve the safety and reliability of Orion’s landing by investigating ways to make its main parachutes more aerodynamically stable while maintaining drag performance, all in preparation for its next mission, Exploration Mission-1.

In January, a team of NASA, Jacobs Engineering, Airborne Systems, and personnel from the National Full Scale Aerodynamics Complex tested 13 different parachute configurations in one of the Complex’s wind tunnels in California.

During the testing, a tether system was used to simultaneously hold the parachute and measure aerodynamic forces to help determine which parachute configuration provided the best performance.

The parachute was also allowed to fly freely in the tunnel. During these free-flights, data was gathered using photogrammetry, a way of taking measurements using photography, to help determine the aerodynamic characteristics of the parachute.

As a result of the testing, two parachutes were selected for use in the February testing in Arizona. Data from both the wind tunnel and air drop testing will be used to help decide which parachute configuration will be used for future Orion missions that will send astronauts to deep space destinations and return them home.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado is the primary contractor for the Orion spacecraft. Orion will eventually carry astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before. The capsule will provide emergency abort capabilities, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from space.