Most Viewed Stories
NASA parachute test ties record
YUMA PROVING GROUND - NASA and industry engineers conducted another successful drop test Thursday morning at Yuma Proving Ground on one of the parachutes that will be used for its newest generation of space travel launch craft.
"Everything performed as planned," said Ron King, Ares I first stage deceleration subsystem manager for the Ares Projects at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "It couldn't have gone any better."
Ares I is the first rocket in NASA's Constellation Program that will launch explorers on journeys to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond, according to the agency's Web site.
King said the drop test not only involved testing the world's largest parachute, which weighs 2,000 pounds and measures 150 feet in diameter, it also equaled the heaviest payload ever dropped by air.
Cary Ralston, vice president of space launch propulsion for ATK Space Systems, said the purpose of the test, which was conducted at a remote site at YPG, was to evaluate the design weight limit load of a single main parachute's canopy.
"This will verify whether the parachute can handle the load it was designed to," Ralston said prior to the drop. "If we can verify the load capability of a single chute, by similarity, we will know the capability of the other chutes."
Ralston was also pleased with the result of the drop test.
"From everything so far, it appears to have been another successful test. It looked perfect. Everything seemed to have worked at the time it was supposed to," Ralston said.
Currently NASA is in the process of designing two rocket boosters, the Ares I and the Ares V, as part of its next generation manned spacecraft launch vehicle, called the Constellation Program.
In addition to these two rocket boosters, NASA is designing a set of other spacecraft for use as part of the Constellation Program. These will include the Orion crew capsule, the Earth Departure Stage and the Altair lunar lander. Orion will replace the space shuttle program, which will end in 2010.
The Ares I booster rocket will launch the Orion Crew Capsule, which is similar in design to the Project Apollo capsule, to transport astronauts.
The Ares V will be designed to launch other hardware for use on missions and will have a heavier lift capacity than the Ares I booster.
The Ares I launch vehicle, which is slated to replace the space shuttle, uses a five-segment reusable solid rocket developed from the twin four-segment boosters used to launch the space shuttle.
Like the recovery system for the shuttle boosters, the Ares first stage recovery system will consist of pilot and drogue chutes that reorient and decelerate the used solid rocket motor prior to deploying a cluster of three main parachutes.
Due to the added weight of the extra segment on Ares I and the higher apogee reached by the Ares first stage, the main parachutes for the Ares recovery system were designed to be 20 percent larger than the one currently used on the shuttle boosters.
The parachutes will work in tandem, providing the drag necessary to slow the descent of the huge solid rocket motor. The parachute system allows the first stage to achieve a soft landing in the ocean, where it will be recovered, evaluated and prepared for reuse on future missions.
According to ATK spokesperson Trina Patterson, Thursday morning's test was the third in a series of four on the main parachute. It was also the ninth in an ongoing series of tests in the development of the cluster of parachutes that comprise the Ares deceleration and recovery system.
To date, ATK and its partners have successfully conducted three pilot, two drogue, three single main and one main cluster parachute drop tests.
Thursday morning's test was conducted by dropping a 72,000-pound weight from the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft that was flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet.
Moments after the payload left the C-17, a 60,000-pound test weight (which looked like a large dart), separated from the original payload.
After freefalling for several seconds, the 150-foot-diameter main parachute on the 60,000-pound payload was deployed and lowered the test weight safely to the desert floor.
“This is yet another successful milestone for the Ares I program, which has been steadily progressing over the past four years,” said Mike Kahn, executive vice president of ATK Space Systems, in a news release.
Engineers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center managed the team that conducted the test – the first in a series of three planned load limit tests – designed to place 100 percent of the flight dynamic pressures on the parachute canopy.
ATK Space Systems near Promontory, Utah, is the prime contractor for the first stage booster. The parachutes being tested were designed and manufactured by the United Space Alliance at the Kennedy Space Center under a subcontract to ATK.
NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Constellation Program. The Marshall Center manages the Ares Projects. The U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground provides the test range, support facilities and equipment to NASA for parachute testing. Another test was conducted at YPG in May. The U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base provided the C-17 test aircraft and crew.
Ralston said the newly developed Ares I parachute system, which was tested at YPG, is already packed and ready to be used operationally later this month during the flight test of Ares I-X, a full scale launch vehicle with an inert upper stage. Ares I-X is one of many systems that will provide valuable flight data that will aid in finalizing the design of Ares I.
King said the next parachute test is scheduled for April and will test the overload capability of the parachutes.
Four additional parachute drop tests are planned over the next two years.