Engineers Continue Pushing Orion Parachute System to Its Limits

February 27th, 2014

The parachute system designed for NASA’s Orion spacecraft passed another hurdle on Feb. 26, in a test that put extra stress on its drogue parachutes and simulated a failure of one of its three main parachutes.

Engineers dropped a dart-shaped test vehicle that simulates Orion’s parachute compartment from a C-17 flying 35,000 feet above the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Although one test has been conducted from that height before, this was the first using the dart-shaped vehicle at that altitude. Using it along with test configuration parachutes to get it into place for the test put more stress than ever before on the two drogue parachutes that precede the main parachutes and begin the job of slowing Orion down before it lands.

“We are trying to push these parachute to the extreme limits,” said Chris Johnson, project manager for the parachutes. “We want to explore all of the boundaries possible, so that we know we can count on them when it really matters and get our astronauts home safely.”

This test verified that the drogue parachutes will perform successfully during the most extreme speed, altitude and pressure loads they would see in a mission, providing invaluable information to add to the computer models used to design the system that will allow crews in Orion to splashdown safely in the Pacific Ocean.

“As much as we’d like to, we can’t actually test every imaginable scenario,” Johnson said. “But the more data we have, the better our models and the more confident we can be that we’ve covered all of our bases.”

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