Nasa to conduct final Orion drop-test

Posted on 5 Aug 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

US space agency Nasa have confirmed the date for the latest test of its new Orion spacecraft.

Journalists have been invited to view the final drop test of the crew capsule, with the date set for August 26.

The test will take place at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and will attempt to simulate re-entry from space.

The Orion capsule itself will be dropped from an aircraft at a height of 35,000 feet (10,668m), before having its fall arrested by a series of parachutes.

Unlike previous tests however, this time Nasa is aiming to simulate a less-than-ideal deployment of these parachutes. They are looking to see if the craft is able to land safely with one of its two drogue parachutes and one of its three main parachutes failing to deploy.

While this Nasa admits this test is a “high risk scenario”, it believes that it is necessary before the craft can be cleared for human spaceflight.

Orion’s parachutes have previously functioned flawlessly in the craft’s first ever space test flight, which occurred in December 2014.

There, they helped slow the capsule during re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere from approximately 20,000 mph (32,187km/h) to about 20 mph (32km/h) when the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Orion’s next steps

The Orion spacecraft is Nasa’s attempt to build a new manned vehicle able to explore regions beyond Earth orbit.

Built to accommodate up to four astronauts, the craft is both larger is size and crew capacity than the Apollo spacecraft which first took humans to the Moon.

The next in-space test of the Orion will be an unmanned circumlunar voyage lasting several days, slated for sometime in 2018. This will also be the first test of the craft atop Nasa’s new heavy-lift rocket, known as the Space Launch System (SLS).

This will then be followed by the craft’s first manned mission which will likely be to a near-Earth asteroid, captured as part of Nasa’s ‘Asteroid Redirect Mission’.

Later down the line, the Orion craft could be used to land humans on the Moon, or even send them on further afield trips to places like Mars.