Engineers reached a milestone in the development of the parachute recovery system for NASA’s Orion deep space crew vehicle on Dec. 20, as a 21,000-lb. spacecraft simulator floated to an intact landing at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, following an intentional drogue chute failure.
Drop tests of the four person capsule are scheduled to resume in February with an intentional main chute failure.
The parachute recovery system tests are a precursor to NASA’s 2014 Exploration Flight Test-1, an unpiloted launch of the Orion capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. As currently planned, EFT-1 will deliver the Orion test capsule to an orbital altitude of 3,600 mi. for a test of the spacecraft’s heat shield under deep space re-entry conditions. The re-entry velocity is expected to reach 20,000 mph.
The capsule’s parachute recovery system includes five parachutes, two 23-ft.-wide drogues and three 116-ft.-wide mains. The system is designed to land safely with its crew even if one of the drogues or mains fails.
The Dec. 20 flight test verified a safe landing with a drogue failure by releasing an Orion test article from a military transport flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet. After 30 seconds of fall, a single drogue deployed, slowing the capsule sufficiently for the three main chutes to complete the descent.
“The mockup vehicle landed safely in the desert and everything went as planned,” Chris Johnson, an Orion parachute system project manager, said in a statement.
Orion ground tests began in 2007.