A simulator for ’s four-person Orion/Multipurpose Crew Vehicle has passed the eighth in a series of airborne drop tests, descending intact to the Arizona desert with one of three 116-ft.-wide nylon main parachutes intentionally disabled.
The 21,000-lb. mock capsule was released Feb. 11 from a U.S. Air Force transport at 25,000 ft. above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.
The capsule, a cornerstone of’s efforts to develop a post-Apollo human deep-space exploration capability, will be equipped with three parachutes and two drogues. But it will be capable of descending into the Pacific Ocean upon return from missions to the Moon, asteroids and Mars with just two mains and a single drogue inflating.
The capsule descended safely onto the proving grounds in December with one of the smaller drogues intentionally disabled. More testing is scheduled for May. The drop tests are part of preparations for an unpiloted flight test of an Orion capsule in 2014, which will expose the spacecraft’s heat shielding and parachute recovery system to re-entry velocities exceeding 20,000 mph.
Exploration Flight Test-1 will start with a launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket. The flight will boost the capsule to an altitude of at least 3,600 mi. for the re-entry exercise.
“We never intend for a parachute system to fail, but we’ve proven that if it happens, the system is robust enough for our crews to make it to the ground safely,” said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for the parachute system, in a post-drop statement.
In 2010, President Barack Obama directed NASA to prepare for a human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and crewed flight to the Martian environs a decade later.