In the latest test of the multipurpose crew vehicle's parachute system, a C-17 aircraft dropped the test capsule Wednesday from its highest altitude yet, 35,000 feet above the Arizona desert, the space agency reported Thursday.
During its return from space, Orion's parachute system would normally begin to deploy 25,000 feet above the ground; the extra 10,000 feet of altitude used for Wednesday's test made the demonstration the best so far of Orion's parachute flight and landing, engineers said.
After its release, one of the capsule's three massive main parachutes was cut away early on purpose, providing an opportunity to study how one parachute pulling away in mid-flight might affect the remaining two, engineers said.
"We wanted to know what would happen if a cable got hooked around a sharp edge and snapped off when the parachutes deployed," Stu McClung, Orion's landing and recovery system manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said. "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."
The test was part of a series of parachute tests that will enable NASA to certify Orion to carry humans into space.