In what is considered a major test of the new Orion Rocket Program, NASA engineers successfully tested the new parachute Jettison system which will be used to slow the capsule down to a safe landing in the ocean. In order for the this to happen, the forward bay cover must first jettison, allowing the parachutes to be deployed. The cover is used to protect the command module from the extreme heat of launch and re-entry as well as during orbital flight.
Following the test, Mark Geyer, Orion program manager said “This was a tough one. We’d done our homework, of course, but there were elements here that could only be tested in the air, with the entire system working together. It’s one of the most complicated tests that we’ll do, so we were all excited to see it work just as it was meant to.” There have been previous air tests performed on the parachutes, but this was the first one attempted with the forward bay cover in place. According to the NASA website. the forward bay cover is jettisoned using a thruster separation system built by Systima Technologies Inc. of Bothell, Wash.
Chris Johnson, project manager for the parachutes described this test as crucial because, “The parachute deployment and forward bay cover jettisons are two of the most difficult things for us to model on computers. That’s why we test them so extensively. These systems have to work for Orion to make it safely to the ground, and every bit of data we can gather in tests like these helps us improve our models and gives us more confidence that when we do it for real, we can count on them.” NASA scientists and Lockheed Martin engineers, will do further testing on the ground to check for other stresses on the cover as well as for potential parachute failure which would prove catastrophic for the astronauts on board.
The Orion Spacecraft, which is being built by Lockhead Martin, will be used for manned missions to asteroids, the moon and Mars using the Space Launch System, which is a heavy launch vehicle that was supposed to be the replacement for the Space Shuttle but was met with a lack of funding causing delays. It will be launched aboard a powerful Delta IV rocket which replaced the Ares I which was scrapped in favor of the Delta IV. The Orion capsule can carry two to six astronauts and is not dissimilar in appearance to the Apollo capsules. The first unmanned launch of the Orion is scheduled for September of 2014.