NASA dropped a mockup of its next-generation crewed spacecraft out of a plane to see how hard the vessel would land if parts of its parachute system failed during the descent.

The U.S. space agency on Dec. 20 dropped the Lockheed Martin-built Orion test article from a C-130 aircraft cruising at 7.62 kilometers above the Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. NASA announced the test, which it declared successful, in a Dec. 21 press release.

NASA tested two possible scenarios: failure of the capsule’s parachutes to fully deploy, and failure of one of the capsule’s three main chutes to deploy at all.

NASA said that in the test, the mockup Orion hit the ground at about 10.1 meters per second — its maximum designed touchdown speed.

Also known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Orion is the crew-carrying complement to the congressionally mandated Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket that will be developed and operated by the same NASA centers that were in charge of the space shuttle program. SLS would be the largest rocket ever built.

Orion is lined up for a 2014 test flight aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket. SLS is not scheduled to fly until 2017, when it is slated to send an empty Orion capsule into space, around the Moon and back again. NASA is planning to repeat that mission with a crew in 2021.



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