NASA performs another test of Orion’s parachute system
Last week, NASA tested the parachute system for the space agency’s Orion spacecraft, which is being designed to send astronauts into deep space in the 2020s.
The July 12, 2018, test took place at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona, and was the seventh drop in a series of eight qualification tests, according to NASA. The space agency’s engineers are using these evaluations to certify Orion’s parachutes for crewed missions.
For this particular evaluation, a dart-shaped test article was used. The space agency said this was the final test using that device and the next test, scheduled for September, will used a capsule-shaped test article.
NASA said this drop was used to demonstrate the parachute system’s robustness. It involved flying the article to an altitude of about 6.6 miles (10.6 kilometers) to drop from an aircraft. This altitude allowed it to generate enough speed to simulate forces almost twice as much on the main chutes as would occur during a nominal descent.
According to NASA, the system has 11 parachutes in total—three forward-bay cover parachutes, two drogue parachutes, three pilot parachutes and three main parachutes. These are designed to reduce a returning capsule’s speed after reentry to support a safe ocean splashdown, the space agency said.
Once deployed, each of the main parachutes are designed expand to 116 feet (35 meters) in diameter. However, they are packed into containers aboard Orion that are the size of a large suitcase. To get to that small of a size, NASA said the chutes are compacted with hydraulic presses with forces of up to 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) before being baked for two days and vacuumed sealed. The space agency said this gives the parachutes a density of about 40 pounds per cubic foot (640 kilograms per cubic meter)—roughly the same as wood from an oak tree.
At about 16 feet (five meters) in diameter and 11 feet (3.3 meters) tall, the Orion capsule is being designed to send people beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. It’s first test flight was in December of 2014. Launched atop a Delta IV rocket, the two-orbit Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission was sent as high as 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) to test the crafts heat shield, parachutes, computers and other items as they re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at near-lunar velocities.
The second flight of an Orion spacecraft, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), is set to launch atop the massive Space Launch System (SLS) that NASA is also developing. That mission, which will not have people on board, will be the first SLS flight and is currently scheduled for sometime in 2020. However, it has been delayed several times from its original 2017 target.
EM-2—the third test flight of the capsule design—is expected to send people to cislunar space sometime in 2023. However, like EM-1, that date could change pending delays in development.
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.