NASA Completes High-Altitude Test of Orion Spacecraft

The July 24 test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground demonstrated the spacecraft can safely land even if one of its parachutes fails.

NASA announced its Orion spacecraft successfully completed a high-altitude test July 24 to demonstrate the crew vehicle could land safely even if one of its parachutes fails. This was the tenth test landing of the spacecraft and took place 35,000 feet above an Arizona desert.

The vehicle was dropped from a C-17 aircraft and one of three main parachutes was cut away early on purpose. According to NASA’s release, the test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground was the highest-altitude test of a human spacecraft parachute since the Apollo Program.

"The closer we can get to actual flight conditions, the more confidence we gain in the system," said Chris Johnson, project manager for the Orion capsule parachute assembly system at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. "What we saw today -- other than the failures we put in on purpose -- is very similar to what Orion will look like coming back during Exploration Flight Test-1's Earth entry next year."

"We wanted to know what would happen if a cable got hooked around a sharp edge and snapped off when the parachutes deployed," said Stu McClung, Orion's landing and recovery system manager. "We don't think that would ever happen, but if it did, would it cause other failures? We want to know everything that could possibly go wrong so that we can fix it before it does."

During the planned September 2014 Exploration Flight Test-1, the spacecraft will land in the Pacific Ocean rather than on land.

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