May 03, 2013
A mockup of NASA’s Orion capsule descended safely this week with multiple deliberately induced parachute system failures onto the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., clearing the way for a higher altitude drop in July.
The parachute tests are part of preparations for the first unpiloted launch of an Orion spacecraft. Slated for late next year, Exploration Flight Test-1 will launch an uncrewed Orion test capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV to an orbital altitude of 3,600 mi. for evaluations of heat shielding and other systems under deep-space mission re-entry and descent conditions.
“If we have problems with the system, we want to know about them now,” said Stu McClung, Orion’s landing and recovery system manager, in a statement accompanying the May 1 test. “Parachute deployment is inherently chaotic and not easily predictable.”
Recovery operations for piloted Orion missions, currently targeted for 2021, are planned for the Pacific Ocean.
During the latest test, one of the test capsule’s two 23-ft. drogue parachutes was constrained from deploying, while one of the three 116-ft. mains was rigged to skip the initial inflation stage, following a drop from an Air Force transport at 25,000 ft. As designed, the mains inflate in three stages to gradually slow the descent.
The test capsule reached 250 mph. as the deployments began, the highest velocity yet for the parachute system flight evaluations. July testing will take the mock Orion capsule to 35,000 ft., the highest altitude yet in the flight evaluation series, permitting chute deployments at 340 mph. Tests over Yuma in February and December demonstrated safe landings with a main chute malfunction and a failed drogue chute deployment.