Upward and Forward: Orion Gains New Support, Tests Parachute Failure

NASA conducted a test of the Orion spacecraft's parachute system today. Unlike the image posted here, today's test saw the intentional failure of one of the capsule's parachutes to see if the spacecraft could land safely on just two of its three parachutes. Photo Credit: NASA
NASA conducted a test of the Orion spacecraft’s parachute system today. Unlike the image posted here, today’s test saw the intentional failure of one of the capsule’s parachutes to see if the spacecraft could land safely on just two of its three parachutes. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA’s new crewed, deep space exploration spacecraft, Orion, has gained Burlingame, Calif.-based ARES Technical Services Corp to handle the capsule’s program integration. NASA issued a press release on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, to make the announcement.

ARES has entered into a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with NASA that could see the company earn as much as $49 million, including options. The contract is scheduled to begin on April 1 and has a base performance period lasting two-and-a-half years, with a total of two additional years possible.

The work that ARES will conduct on the Orion spacecraft will be done at NASA’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas, as well as other centers and facilities around the United States.

NASA is working to develop Orion to transport crews to destinations beyond the orbit of Earth. These could potentially include the Moon, an asteroid, and, perhaps one day, Mars.

NASA is currently planning to launch the first Orion spacecraft in September 2014. Image Credit: NASA
NASA is currently planning to launch the first Orion spacecraft in September 2014. Image Credit: NASA

Under this contract, ARES will provide various types of assistance in the shape of goods, services, and systems engineering to support Orion’s development.

This is a rather large undertaking, therefore ARES will get assistance from MEI Technologies Inc. ARES will need the help. The contract also stipulates that the service provider support Orion’s development by providing planning, control, and vehicle integration (with the rocket that will deliver Orion to orbit). This contract also requires ARES to assist with test, verification, and educational outreach services.

The Orion spacecraft successfully proved today, Tuesday, Feb. 12, that it can land on just two of its three parachutes. NASA is all about redundancy and ensuring that if something were to go wrong, it would not result in a catastrophic failure.

A parachute failure on a U.S. manned mission is not without precedent. In 1971, one of Apollo 15’s parachutes failed when it was returning to Earth. Then, as now, NASA’s philosophy of developing redundant systems ensured that the crew returned safely back to Earth.

The parachutes were rigged to fail and attached to a test article of the Orion. The test article was then dropped out of the back of an airplane at about 25,000 feet above the deserts of Yuma, Ariz. Orion will weigh about 21,000 lbs, requiring the capsule be fitted with three primary chutes and two drogues.

NASA has good reason to test just such a failure as the one it simulated today. In 1971, Apollo 15 returned to Earth from the Moon - and one of its parachutes failed to open. Photo Credit: NASA
NASA has good reason to test such a failure as the one it simulated today. In 1971, Apollo 15 returned to Earth from the Moon, and one of its parachutes failed to open. Photo Credit: NASA

Today was the eighth parachute test; the next one is scheduled to take place this May. This is all in preparation for the main event—the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission, which will see a flight test article of Orion travel to 3,600 miles away from Earth and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for a splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

“Today is a great validation of the parachute system,” said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion’s parachute system. “We never intend to have a parachute fail, but we’ve proven that if we do, the system is robust for our crew to make it to the ground safely.”

Orion has been steadily progressing in terms of development. The first flight of the spacecraft is slated to take place at the end of 2014. This mission will test out the spacecraft’s heatshield and will be sent to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. This, however, is just the pre-show.

In 2017, the first flight of NASA’s heavy-lift “Space Launch System” (SLS) booster is scheduled to take place and open a new era of human space flight. NASA plans to use SLS to send crews to the Moon, asteroids, and, potentially one day, Mars.


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  1. A recent poll conducted by Boeing and Explore Mars showed overwhelming support for NASA and a great desire by the American public for a crewed mission to Mars. (The poll also showed that most people believed that NASA received approximatelt 2.5% of the federal budget, and were shocked to learn that NASA actually received less than 0.5%). This successful test is indeed a well-deserved validation of the hard work of OUR NASA Orion/SLS team. Great work! Upward and forward! P.S., I spoke to Col. Jack Lousma on Saturday (he’s a great guy!) who said that we definitely need to return to the Moon, and this time we need to stay longer. It’s too bad Apollo 20 was cancelled and he missed the chance to be the LM pilot, we all lost out on that.

  2. Like I always say, the NASA budget is chump change. Yes, return to the Moon, explore the asteroids and do the other explorations. We can afford it. Leadership in spaceflight is worth it. I agree that we should not have cancelled Apollo 18, 19 and 20.

  3. The United States was about to spend millions to bring Sesame Street to Afghanistan, until the Afghan government told us that they absolutely did not want it, and that we could go stuff our Big Bird. You’re exactly right Tom, given all that NASA has done, and could do, the NASA budget is ridiculously inadequate. We squeal for advanced technology to resuscitate our moribund economy, and then we choke the greatest technology driver of all – NASA. If America had the will, NASA would have the funding. Now, if we could only get the Chinese to launch a Sputnik . . . .

  4. Karol: That’s my fear….the Chinese could assume that leadership role. Should not, and must not happen. WE are the leaders. Our elected officials dwell on non-sensical, touchy-feely projects like the Sesame Street baloney you reference while ignoring the big picture. Let’s hope a new generation of forward-looking, fiscally responsible elected officials see the light.

  5. NASA budget ‘chump change’. Hardly. If you add up all other countries budgets I believe it’s approx. 75% of the current NASA budget.
    It’s not about the quantum of monies available to NASA these days but how they spend it.
    Giant rockets with no approved or funded missions running on cost-plus contracts isn’t a great way IMHO
    And the continuing phobia about Chinese leadership – well SLS isn’t going to do anything to counter that.

    Let’s face it, the U.S. has existing commercial launch vehicles and future ones (not funded by the taxpayer) that put the Chinese in the shade and if appropriate funding was available, the the U.S. would have not one, but 2 or 3 space vehicles for leo that could be evolved to handle beo. Orion’s another overly expensive (cost plus contracting) problem looking for a solution.

    • Neil,
      And yet the American public still spends more on frozen pizza & cigarettes than the $18.7 billion that comprises the NASA budget. Also, your statement implying that commercial space pays for a majority of their operations, is factually inaccurate, if not an outright falsehood. Some estimates have placed the amount of what taxpayers actually pay for “private” space efforts such as COTS & CRS at 75 – 80 percent.
      While we appreciate your enthusiasm for NewSpace, it’s important that you keep things in perspective & not misrepresent the facts. As stated in an earlier discussion, placing all of the space industry’s eggs in one basket or the other (New or Old) – is wrong. A blending of the two is far smarter & should provide better results. Having commercial space firms learn & manage the LEO ropes while NASA pioneers new frontiers – is a mature way of handling things.
      Sincerely and with regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

  6. Jason.
    The public is entitled to spend what they like on pizza and cigarettes. That’s totally beside the point and irrelevant to what gets spent on NASA.

    Estimates are just that. I’ve seen estimates closer to the 50% mark and besides, NASA is paying for the development of services it requires that it can’t get any other way.

    There were several efforts to find a replacement for the Shuttle over the years – all failed including Cx, cancelled due to overbudget, over-schedule performance (sorry lack of performance) and then with Orion which has also gone way, way overbuget and which has now morphed into a BEO vehicle. Cx morphed into SLS just so jobs could be maintained. I believe several Congress members are on record as stating something to that effect.

    In addition, NASA doesn’t pay unless specific agreed milestones have been achieved at least with respect to the COTS and CCDev programs. As far as I can determine, this is not the case with SLS and MPCV where contractors are paid for whatever they basically incur plus their margins.

    IMO I am keeping things in perspective. The issue I currently have with NASA is that it is not going to open up new frontiers and get beyond LEO with the current plan. (BTW, I don’t have a problem with the LEO programs. I think they’re going well and cudos to all those involved.)

    Show me how SLS and MPVC are going to do this when they’re eating all the budget such that there is no money for developing payloads, additional space vehicles and so on. The program budgets are flatlined and when you’d expect some form of ‘S’ curve in expenditure throughout such a program. Without the ramp-up of expenditure, the program stretches out consuming more time which simply increases cost.

    In addition, there’s no money even for a service module for the Orion such that NASA had to go to ESA and even then, that’s still not guaranteed and if one is built, then that’s all ESA is going to do. The plan is to transfer the tech’ to NASA!!

    Come on. How are they going to fund any BEO missions? In addition, some form of budget cuts are coming. Figures range from five to nine percent.

    It just seems to me that this is simply unpalatable for NASA and Congress and that in reality, the SLS and MPCV (well perhaps not so much) two programs are exactly what they seem – jobs only.

    Anyone who wants to, can check my statements above, and if you have any idea of project/progam management, you’ll realise that what I’ve stated concerning SLS is spot on and not made up. Budget reductions are also pretty much certain. The different contracting methods can be checked. NASA failed to replace the Shuttle several times – fact.

    So I ask in all seriousness, who is dealing with reality and who’s simply dreaming? At the end of the day, history will show who was more grounded in reality and who wasn’t. In my experience, wishing doesn’t make it so.

    Neil Shipley

    • Neil,
      1. You brought taxpayers into this.

      2. Estimates under 75 percent – are inaccurate (that’s me being polite).

      3. Orion didn’t “evolve” into a BEO vehicle – it started out that way, then Obama attempted to scrap it, then convert it into a life boat before Congress stopped him & restored it. CX/SLS was not restored to save “jobs” – that’s just the usual NewSpace tactic of being derogatory & insulting toward projects that they feel are getting the funds they feel entitled to. Contrary to you and other NewSpacers opinions – NASA doesn’t exist solely to fund your companies’ objectives. They’re in the business of exploration. The most asinine thing NewSpacers state is that NASA should fund NewSpace efforts only & abandon efforts to send crew beyond LEO – I can’t imagine how bad you have to be suffering from arrogance-induced myopia to think that way.

      4. Sorry, that’s flat out wrong. SpaceX got cash to help move their commercial efforts along & they didn’t reach any milestones to get it. I get annoyed when NewSpacers states falsehoods as facts & ignore inconvenient truths as if they didn’t exist. To put it simply – I don’t like liars.

      5. Sure you keep things in perspective – your own personal perspective. You cherry-pick your “facts” & ignore everything that contradicts it. Neil, how do you know what NASA is or is not going to do? If memory serves you’re in Australia! I live in Florida & cover the Space Coast! Of course you don’t have problems with NASA’s LEO programs – they’re all NewSpace! You are so biased! Your comments would be funny if they weren’t so sad. The only thing you support is NewSpace & you want every last dime to go to these tiny firms – regardless of how that impacts true space exploration! Sorry, but to be blunt? Dismantling space exploration efforts just so a few NewSpace firms can achieve what NASA accomplished in 1961 is the “mine, mine, mine” mentality of a Kindergartner.

      6. Ah, the typical NewSpace “show me” nonsense. Let me tell you what would happen if I wasted my time & did that. I research the data, you then either ignore all of it, or present your own data that you think shows how my data is inaccurate. So what’s the point Neil? Put on your big boy pants, stop trolling pro-NewSpace logs and try getting information from new sources – yo’d be amazed at what you will learn.

      7. Allow me to act like a NewSpacer. NASA would have no problem funding BEO efforts – if they weren’t wasting money on all of those NewSpace companies. I mean, let’s be honest, the only commercial company that NASA has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in to do much of anything – is SpaceX. Do you see how nauseating & arrogant that sounds? I’d recommend you try to tamp down your condescending, selfish attitude.

      8. SLS & Orion, contrary to selfish NewSpacers, is about ensuring that we get back to the business of exploring – not jobs. Neil, the one thing you never say is that you actually have no problems with NASA funding going to pay for jobs – so long as they’re NewSpace companies. That, by the way, is called hypocrisy.

      9. Budget issues are a fact & I think NASA would be wise to cut the NewSpace cord & place the funding behind its exploration efforts. Keep SpaceX, because they are producing, & tell the rest to walk.

      10. As usual, when someone doesn’t agree with a NewSpacer, they insult (the resort of the desperate). Don’t think you were insulting? How else would you describe someone with no experience, other than what he reads on pro-NewSpace blogs stating the following to someone who has covered the topic for almost a decade: So I ask in all seriousness, who is dealing with reality and who’s simply dreaming? At the end of the day, history will show who was more grounded in reality and who wasn’t. In my experience, wishing doesn’t make it so.

      “Wishing” had nothing to do with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, landing 12 men on the Moon & the successful shuttle missions you ignore. Wishing also had nothing to do with all of the robotic explorers that have exponentially increased our knowledge of the universe. Wishing didn’t build a floating laboratory on orbit, where 16 different nations contribute to the improvement of life here on Earth on a daily basis. I don’t “wish” for anything Neil, other than the fact that I “wish” snotty NewSpacers would stuff their unwarranted & unearned condescending attitude. You’re nothing more than children insulting adults & it’s tired. To date, your precious NewSpacers haven’t launched a single astronaut. You’ve only launched two spacecraft to the ISS – that’s it. Most of your comments are not about what has happened, it is about what NewSpace says will happen. So really Neil who is wishing here? I base my facts off of what has already taken place & been proven, you base your opinion & attitude off of NewSpace PowerPoints.

      I am dealing with reality, a merged NewSpace/OldSpace arrangement where NewSpace handles LEO & NASA handles BEO – makes good sense. I have the ability to see the positive aspects of both NewSpace & OldSpace – an ability you sorely lack. All you have said can be boiled down into one sentence: “mine, mine, mine!” That’s not reality Neil, that’s just typical NewSpacer selfishness. Thanks again for highlighting NewSpace’s condescending, arrogant attitude – it proves more eloquently than anything I could ever write – why NewSpace should not be given the keys to the kingdom. You guys still have a lot of growing up to do.

      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace


  7. GREAT reply Jason! I enjoy good fiction as much as the next person, but not in the guise of newspace cheerleader “facts”. Thank you Jason, Jim, and AmericaSpace! Having studied the facts and figures from a variety of sources, the hard cold numbers that the Wall Street types use in making real-world, not wishful thinking, investment decisions, your honest, unvarnished, analysis is a clarion call of truth, even to those who don’t want to listen. As we say in Detroit, ” . . . and another one down, another one down, another one bites the dust.”

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