Orion Lands Safely on Two of Three Parachutes in Test

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NASA’s Orion spacecraft demonstrated Feb. 12 that it can land safely if one of its three main parachutes fails to inflate during deployment.

Before dropping an Orion test capsule from a plane 7,600 meters above Yuma, Ariz., engineers rigged the parachutes so only two would inflate.

“Today is a great validation of the parachute system,” Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion’s parachute system, said in a statement. “We never intend to have a parachute fail, but we’ve proven that if we do, the system is robust [enough] for our crew to make it to the ground safely.”

NASA said that the 9,500-kilogram Orion capsule needs only two main parachutes and one drogue parachute to land safely in the ocean upon its return from deep space. But NASA and prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver are equipping Orion with three main parachutes and two drogue parachutes to provide each system with backup.

NASA simulated a drogue parachute failure in December in a test that ended with a safe landing, the agency said in a press release. The next Orion parachute test, the program’s ninth, is planned for May.

Meanwhile, engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi were preparing to conduct a new series of tests on the J-2X rocket engine that will help power the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket that will carry Orion to orbit beginning in 2017. NASA has already conducted 34 tests on the first J-2X development engine, including a full flight-duration firing of 500 seconds.

After completing a series of tests on the second J-2X development engine on the A-2 Test Stand at Stennis, the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne-built engine will be transferred to the A-1 Test Stand for a series of gimbal, or pivot, tests for the first time, NASA said in a Feb. 11 press release.