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Orion's parachute system tested in Arizona desert
Posted: July 18, 2012

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Ejected from a C-17 plane 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona today, engineers successfully tested the parachutes on a full-sized Orion spacecraft.

It was the second such test using a craft simulating the intended size and shape of the capsule that will ferry humans on deep space exploration missions.

"Today's parachute test in Yuma is an important reminder of the progress being made on Orion and its ultimate mission -- enabling NASA to meet the goal of sending humans to an asteroid and Mars," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Orion's first adventure into space is planned for 2014 when a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket hurls the vehicle on a two-orbit shakedown cruise before making a high-speed re-entry into Earth's atmosphere for a parachute-slowed splashdown.

In today's test, Orion's drogue chutes were deployed between 20,000 feet and 15,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes that extracted the main landing parachutes. The descended at about 17 miles per hours, well below its maximum designed touchdown speed, for touchdown on the desert floor.

"Across the country, NASA and industry are moving forward on the most advanced spacecraft ever designed, conducting drop and splashdown tests, preparing ground systems, designing software and computers and paving the way for the future of exploration," Gerstenmaier said.

The primary goal of today's was determining how the entire parachute system would respond if one of the reefing lines was cut prematurely, causing the three main parachutes to inflate too quickly. The reefing lines, which when cut by a pyrotechnic device, allow the parachute to open gradually, managing the initial amount of drag and force on the parachute.