Orion Parachutes Measure Up in High Pressure Test

Orion parachute test at Yuma Proving Ground. (Credit: NASA/James Blair)

YUMA, Ariz. (NASA PR) — Orion’s three main orange and white parachutes help a representative model of the spacecraft descend through sky above Arizona, where NASA engineers tested the parachute system on Sept. 13, 2017, at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma. NASA is qualifying Orion’s parachutes for missions with astronauts.

During this test, engineers replicated a situation in which Orion must abort off the Space Launch System rocket and bypass part of its normal parachute deployment sequence that typically helps the spacecraft slow down during its descent to Earth after deep space missions. The capsule was dropped out of a C-17 aircraft at more than 4.7 miles in altitude and allowed to free fall for 20 seconds, longer than ever before, to produce high aerodynamic pressure before only its pilot and main parachutes were deployed, testing whether they could perform as expected under extreme loads. Orion’s full parachute system includes 11 total parachutes — three forward bay cover parachutes and two drogue parachutes, along with three pilot parachutes that help pull out the spacecraft’s three mains.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    NASA should upgrade Orion with an airbag landing system.

  • delphinus100

    It was originally meant to have them.

    Back in the Ares-I days, when the second stage was meant to use a Space Shuttle Main Engine, this was one of its features. But when it proved impossible to make an air-startable version of the engine (on the Shuttle, it uses startup hardware that stays behind on the pad), they switched to a pair of J-2X engines, which did not have the same performance.

    To compensate, an extra segment was added to the solid rocket motor, the diameter of Orion itself was reduced from 5.5 to 5 meters, and other systems were changed or removed, where possible, to reduce weight.

    The air bags were part of that.

    So, it’s back to the water as standard procedure…

    But in a different universe, it would’ve looked like, and landed like CST-100 in that respect.