Orion’s Parachute System Notches Another Drop Test

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NASA completed another drop test of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle’s parachutes July 18 in Arizona in preparation for the spacecraft’s orbital flight test in 2014.

A C-17 plane dropped a test version of Orion from an altitude of 7,600 meters above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This test was the second to use an Orion craft that mimics the full size and shape of the spacecraft.

Orion’s drogue chutes were deployed between 4,500 meters 6,000 meters, followed by the pilot parachutes, which deployed the main landing parachutes. Orion descended 7.5 meters per second, well below its maximum designed touchdown speed, when it landed on the desert floor.

The purpose of the test was to determine how the entire parachute system would respond if one of its so-called reefing lines were cut prematurely, causing the three main parachutes to inflate too quickly.

NASA has been testing Orion parachutes on the ground and in the air since 2007. The agency plans to launch an uncrewed Orion from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket. The launch, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1, is designed to send the spacecraft nearly 5,800 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, or 15 times higher than the international space station, in order to test Orion’s heat shield performance at speeds generated during a return from deep space.