Engineers testing the parachute system for NASA's Orion spacecraft increased the complexity of their tests by adding the jettison of hardware designed to keep the capsule safe during flight.
The test was the first to give engineers in-air data on the performance of the system that jettisons Orion's forward bay cover. The cover is a shell that fits over Orion's crew module to protect the spacecraft during launch, orbital flight and re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. When Orion returns from space, the cover must come off before the spacecraft's parachutes can deploy. It must be jettisoned high above the ground in order for the parachutes to unfurl.
Previous parachute tests at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona tested the performance of the parachutes in various conditions without a forward bay cover. Adding the cover and its jettison, along with the deployment of three additional parachutes to pull the cover away from the crew module and lower it to the ground, added a level of complexity to the testing.
Two more ground tests will simulate different types of stresses on the cover, such as a potential parachute failure or loads on the spacecraft. NASA also plans a second airborne test with the forward bay cover to evaluate its performance with a failed parachute.