A test version of the Orion crew capsule that will be launched to space for the first time in December completed a drop test in Arizona that gave NASA a closer look at the parachutes the spacecraft will rely on to land safely in the ocean, the agency said in June 25 press release.

The test Orion was dropped out of a Boeing C-17 aircraft about 10 kilometers above the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground. It was the first time certain Orion parachutes had been tested at that altitude, NASA said in the press release. 

The chutes were also tested at speeds higher than those expected to be encountered during the final stages of the craft’s descent, according to the press release. 

Engineers also rigged one of Orion’s three main parachutes to expand quicker than it was designed to, NASA wrote. The next Orion parachute test is set for August and will test the combined failure of one drogue parachute, which opens ahead of the three main chutes to slow Orion down before the craft’s final landing phase, and one main parachute, as well as new parachute design features, NASA wrote in the press release.

The first Orion spaceflight is set for Dec. 4. The craft will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 in an Earth-orbit demonstration flight designed mainly as a stress test for the capsule’s heat shield. Orion will first be launched by its intended carrier rocket, the heavy-lift Space Launch System, in either 2017 or 2018, NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft wrote in a June 23 email. The second Orion-SLS flight is scheduled for 2021 and will be the first to carry a crew.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...