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.”
The additional information increases engineers’ confidence that they can accurately virtually simulate an array of scenarios. During this test, engineers repeated the failure of one of the three main parachutes from a previous test to provide more data and opened the two main parachutes at different rates from previous tests to assess a design improvement. They also were able to use three forward bay cover parachutes as programmers to set the test up, which allowed them to obtain more data on those parachutes, even though no cover was used during the test.
Testing Orion’s parachutes will ensure that the system is dependable when the spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere. Orion’s first flight to space is scheduled to launch this fall. After an uncrewed, two-orbit flight, the spacecraft will return to Earth at speeds approaching 20,000 mph. Traveling through the Earth’s atmosphere will slow it down dramatically, before the parachutes deploy and bring Orion in for a splashdown at only about 20 mph.
The next parachute test, set for April 23rd, will skip the drogue parachutes altogether, demonstrating a launch abort scenario that relies only on the three main parachutes to slow the spacecraft safely.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense