NASA’s Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle parachute test article touched down intact at the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., on July 24, following the program’s most challenging drop exercise to date.

The mass simulator for the four-person capsule was dropped from a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport at 35,000 ft. One of the capsule’s three 116 ft.-wide main parachutes was then intentionally cut away below 8,000 ft., simulating a loss of redundancy following a normal drogue chute release.

Though a forerunner of NASA’s scheduled Exploration Flight Test-1 in September 2014, the high-altitude drop test was considered more of a prelude to the subsequently planned Exploration Mission-1 and EM-2 test missions planned for 2019 and 2021, according to C.J. Johnson, the NASA project manager for the Orion parachute assembly system.

“Just visually, it’s hard to tell all the details, but visually it looked like we had a successful flight test,” Johnson said following the drop that unfolded shortly after 11 a.m. EDT.

EM-1 and EM-2 will pair uncrewed and crewed versions of the Orion with the 70-metric-ton version of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket for the first times. EM-2 could send NASA astronauts to lunar orbit for an encounter with a small asteroid under the Asteroid Retrieval Mission outlined in the agency’s proposed 2014 budget.

Next year’s EFT-1 will hurl the capsule on an unpiloted, two-orbit test flight atop a Delta IV Heavy booster from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

After reaching an altitude of 3,600 mi., the Orion spacecraft would plunge into the atmosphere in a verification test of the heat shielding, structures and other critical systems.

On its way to a Pacific Ocean splashdown, the capsule would reach velocities exceeding 20,000 mph and experience frictional heating of more than 4,000F, re-entry conditions that flight crews could expect on proposed missions to Near Earth Objects, Mars or the Moon.