NASA recently completed a series of tests that will aid in the design and development of a parachute recovery system for the rocket and capsule that will return astronauts to the moon and later support missions to Mars. The system will be used for the first stage booster of the Ares I crew launch vehicle and for Orion, the new crew exploration vehicle.
NASA and industry engineers traveled to the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. to conduct drop tests of the two parachute systems during the week of Aug. 14.
The Ares I tests collected performance data on a pilot parachute, the first to be unfurled in a three-stage recovery system NASA is developing for the rocket’s first stage. The system includes a pilot, drogue and three main parachutes. The system is derived from the space shuttle’s solid rocket booster recovery system. The pilot chute, 11.5 feet in diameter, was packed and mounted inside a 1,500-pound drop test vehicle. Instruments and a recorder were mounted inside the test vehicle to capture data on the speed, weight on the parachute lines and pressure during descent from an altitude of 10,000 feet.
The Ares I first stage booster Recovery System Development Test Program is a two-year effort. Six additional pilot parachute tests will be conducted through 2008. Tests are also planned for the drogue and main parachutes.
The Orion crew exploration vehicle parachute tests demonstrated a three-stage main parachute deployment sequence. Data gathered during this test will help designers ensure that their computer models accurately predict the way the parachutes will behave.
The parachute recovery system for Orion will be similar to the system used for Apollo command module landings and include two drogue, three pilot and three main parachutes.
The Orion test parachute unfurled in three stages until its maximum diameter was achieved, demonstrating a technique to avoid undue stress on the crew capsule as it descends through the atmosphere. The parachute design promotes quicker inflation and strengthens its canopy with a vent hoop to increase the amount of mass it can handle. The Orion test parachute was dropped from an altitude of 8,000 feet.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., is responsible for project management of the Ares I first stage and leads the design and development of the solid rocket booster recovery system. ATK Launch Systems, Brigham City, Utah, is the prime contractor for the first stage booster. ATK’s subcontractor, United Space Alliance, Houston, is responsible for the design, development and test of the parachutes at their facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The Johnson Space Center, Houston, hosts the Constellation Program and Orion Project Office and provides test instrumentation and support personnel. Yuma Proving Ground is providing the test range; support facilities and equipment.