This week, NASA completed tests on the Orion spacecraft’s parachutes. The capsule is being designed as part of a project to send humans into deep space.
The tests were conducted at the U.S. Army Yuma proving Ground in Arizona. The test was to see whether the capsule can safely land when one of its drogue parachutes fails to deploy.
“The mockup vehicle landed safely in the desert and everything went as planned,” said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion’s parachute assembly system. “We designed the parachute system so nothing will go wrong, but plan and test as though something will so we can make sure Orion is the safest vehicle ever to take humans to space.”
The Orion capsule uses five parachutes to land: three 116 feet wide main parachutes and two 23 feed wide drogue parachutes. To land safely, the 21,000-pound capsule needs only two main parachutes and one drogue parachute. The capsule was dropped from 25,000 feet above the desert, with the primary drogue parachute intentionally sabotaged. The second drogue opened as planned and the capsule safely landed.
In 2014, and unmanned Orion capsule will launch and travel 15 times farther than the International Space Station’s orbit – farther than any spacecraft designed for a crew has traveled since the Apollo missions. On the return trip, the capsule’s heat shields will be tested during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere at over 20,000 mph.
NASA has released footage of the Orion capsule being tossed out of the back of a cargo plane, but not, unfortunately, the landing.
(Image courtesy NASA)