NASA engineers completed the testing program of the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system with the seventh and final development test on January 13, 2016.
The test article descended from the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft at an altitude of 30,000ft to the deserts below around the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, USA.
The test article was not shaped like the Orion spacecraft itself, but rather it was dart-shaped in order to increase the rate of descent to specifically test the parachute at speeds greater than those the spacecraft is expected to encounter during a normal mission. In so doing, the test helped to confirm that the system should still operate under more extreme conditions than those Orion is anticipated to encounter – providing crews with wider safety margins.
A new, lighter-weight suspension line material was selected for the parachutes. According to a release issued by the space agency, this helped to achieve savings with regard to mass.
With the successful completion of the development parachute tests, NASA engineers will now work to evaluate any modifications that need to be made before qualification tests can begin, which could be as early as July 2016 for a program of eight tests over three years.
The system is comprised of 11 parachutes in total; the public is only familiar with the final three seen in Apollo missions. The parachutes are deployed in a precise timing starting when the Orion spacecraft is traveling at speeds greater than 300mph.
January 14, 2016