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Orion parachutes complete series of tests in lead up to EM-1

The Orion spacecraft had its parachutes completed a series of eight tests on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Photo Credit: NASA

The Orion spacecraft had its parachutes completed a series of eight tests on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Photo Credit: NASA

After years of development and putting into place the infrastructure for a sustained deep space exploration program, NASA and Lockheed Martin completed a series of tests of the Orion parachute system in the deserts of Arizona on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

Eight of eight

A test article of the Orion spacecraft was deployed from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft above the U.S. Army’s Proving Ground in Yuma, a little more than 155 miles from Phoenix. 

The test article was dropped from a height of more than six miles. This final test was a carefully choreographed series of events that proved the 11 parachutes would deploy, that the pyrotechnics, mortars and other required systems all performed as advertised.

Orion’s parachutes are very different from those people use to jump from airplanes. Their size alone helps separate them from other parachutes. Those used to slow Orion’s descent measure an estimated 36,000 square feet and thirty miles of Kevlar lines attach the top of the spacecraft to the parachutes.

Test article of Orion spacecraft completes a series of drop tests in Yuma, Arizona. Photo Credit: U.S. Army

The test article was deployed from an altitude of about 6.5 miles. Photo Credit: U.S. Army

NASA has been conducting an extensive development and testing program to have the Orion spacecraft ready so that astronauts can once again travel beyond low-Earth orbit. Part of the testing regime has been checking to ensure that the parachutes which will be used to see those crews land gently back on terra firma will perform correctly before crews rely on them when descending toward the Pacific Ocean. The parachute system is designed to slow Orion’s speed from about 300 miles to 20 miles an hour.

The series of tests helped engineers review an array of aspects of the parachute system. Normal deployment, failure scenarios, the weather and possible environmental episodes were all studied in order to increase crew safety.

Watching and waiting

Several NASA astronauts were on hand, along with other agency officials, were on hand to mark this critical milestone. Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich, astronauts Randy Bresnik and Tracy Caldwell-Dyson were on hand to witness one of Orion’s most critical safety systems complete its primary testing phase.

“We’re working incredibly hard not only to make sure Orion’s ready to take our astronauts farther than we’ve been before, but to make sure they come home safely,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich. “The parachute system is complex, and evaluating the parachutes repeatedly through our test series gives us confidence that we’ll be ready for any kind of landing day situation.”

NASA is planning on conducting the first combined flight for both the Orion spacecraft and the launch vehicle that has been developed to send astronauts to distant destinations such as the Moon and perhaps, one day, Mars. This flight, dubbed Exploration Mission-1 is, at present, slated to launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B in 2020. The parachutes for this uncrewed flight have already been installed on Orion.

Video courtesy of NASA Johnson







Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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