Unmanned Test of Orion Spacecraft Landing System Goes Off Without a Hitch

Some Wonder, Why is it taking ten years to develop a new manned space vehicle?


March 19, 2017

At the U.S. Army Yuma Proving ground in Arizona, a test of the Orion space capsule's parachute system helped NASA taken another step toward flying Orion with humans on board.

At the U.S. Army Yuma Proving ground in Arizona, a test of the Orion space capsule's parachute system helped NASA taken another step toward flying Orion with people on board. But some are wondering, why is it taking the US over a decade to develop a new space vehicle?

The time between the last flight of the space shuttle in 2011, and the first flight of a manned Orion spaceship, is sometimes referred to as the Space Gap. It is fair to point out that this is the first time in fifty years, that NASA has attempted to develop a deep space craft; a ship that can take men beyond the Earth's magnetic shield.

It is worth noting that SpaceX of Hawthorne is also developing a deep spaceship, involving the DragonX. They have committed themselves to taking two prepaid, private passengers on a circumnavigation of the moon in mid-2018.

At 9:45 am on March 8, 2017, the test began with a model Orion capsule was dropped from a C-17 aircraft and lasted a total of 4 minutes. The event tested part of the parachute system that will lower the Orion space capsule safely back to Earth.

The test simulated an abort sequence during an Orion launch wherein the spacecraft is ejected from atop the rocket and the deployed parachutes would gently guide the capsule to Earth.

Orion's parachute system includes 11 parachutes in all. Three forward bay chutes deploy first. Second, two drogue parachutes deploy at around 25,000 feet. Finally three pilot parachutes release at 9,500 feet. These pilot parachutes then deploy three main parachutes.

This detailed system can slow the capsule down to just 20 mph (32 km/h). Orion is scheduled to undergo an unmanned test flight in 2019, but the agency is investigating the possibility of adding a crew to the next Orion flight.

While the space shuttle could glide back down to Earth, the Orion spacecraft requires a parachute system, similar to the Apollo spacecraft.

From Wikipedia: The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle will carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently under development by NASA for launch on the Space Launch System, Orion is intended to facilitate human exploration of asteroids and of Mars and to retrieve crew or supplies from the International Space Station if needed.

The Orion MPCV was announced by NASA on May 24, 2011, and is currently under development. Its design is based on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle from the cancelled Constellation program. It has two main modules. The Orion command module is being built by Lockheed Martin at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The Orion Service Module, provided by the European Space Agency, built by Airbus Defence and Space.

The MPCV's first test flight (uncrewed), known as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), was launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on December 5, 2014, on a flight lasting 4 hours and 24 minutes, landing at its target in the Pacific. The first mission to carry astronauts is not expected to take place until 2023 at the earliest, although NASA officials have said that their staff is working toward an "aggressive internal goal" of 2021.

However, a July 2016 Government Accountability Office report cast doubt on even the 2023 launch date, suggesting it may slip up to 6 months. The report gave only a 40% confidence in the 2021 launch date, and suggested the aggressive goal may be counterproductive to the program.


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