NASA moving forward with Orion parachute concepts

by Chris Bergin

NASA and Lockheed Martin are moving forward with their respective proposals for the all-important parachute systems for the Orion spacecraft.

NASA, which is set to replace the space shuttle in or around 2014 with Orion, has so far failed to decide on a CEV Parachute Assembly System (CPAS). A summary presentation delivered recently to both NASA and Lockheed Martin representatives, shows that both organizations’ competing parachute concepts are continuing development ahead of an imminent final decision.
Huge amounts of VSE releated insider news and presentations are available for download on L2. See list at the end of this article.


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Before the award of the multi-billion dollar Orion contract to Lockheed Martin, NASA’s CPAS Project ‘stood-up to develop an in-house parachute solution,’ alongside those designed by companies associated with the contractors bidding to build the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle).

Following Lockheed Martin’s continuation with developing their parachute system, NASA kept their CPAS option alive, putting it through a trade study, before comparing with Lockheed Martin’s alternative version. However, a ‘reconciliation period closed without resolution,’ noted the CPAS presentation.

The systems have two purposes to fulfil, one being a launch abort scenario, which would require the Orion to be pulled free from the failing Ares I vehicle during an abort, splashing down near the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The other being the normal re-entry scenario of returning to terra firma at the designated landing site – which will initially be either Edwards Air Force Base, California, or White Sands, New Mexico.

While the NASA and Lockheed Martin systems stay true to the requirements they are designed for, there are a number of differences between them, from the materials used, to even the number of main parachutes proposed.

The NASA CPAS system uses a Parallel (both at the same time) Drogue Deployment method, with the three main parachutes extracted by mortar. NASA’s material choice is Vectran/1.1 oz Nylon Broadcloth. Terminal velocity is rated at 25 ft/s nominal, 29 ft/s 1 chute out.

Spacecraft/Crew Survivability notes that the system ‘can go directly to mains independent of drogue performance. Ability to handle skipped reefing stages. ‘Empty Confluence’.’

The Lockheed Martin system uses the Serial (primary w/ back-up) Drogue Deployment method, with four main parachutes, extracted by the drogue parachutes. M5/0.7 oz Nylon Broadcloth, is Lockheed Martin’s material of choice, but has the drawback of not being commercially available at present. Terminal velocity is rated at 28.5 ft/s nominal 35 ft/s 1 chute out.

‘Can survive failure of two main with terminal velocity of 42 ft/sec (assumes landing system, seats and crushing structure). Retro Confluence,’ is listed as Lockheed Martin’s system ‘Spacecraft/Crew Survivability.’

Sources claim the decision on the parachute system that will be baselined into Orion was expected last month, but no official announcement has been made. While that decision is believed to be imminent, NASA’s CPAS presentation points to their own system being the preferred option.

‘Project/Lockheed Martin moving forward with both configurations. Very clear both Project and LM see advantages of CPAS config,’ noted the NASA CPAS presentation. ‘Desire better understanding (quantitative) of system-level mass and S&MA effects Project baselined NASA recommended configuration (3-chute) for long-lead development.’

Actual testing of relating parachute system technology has been on-going since last year, mainly at the US Army ranges in Yuma, Arizona, but there’s a long way to go until the system gains a real test scenario, with the Pad and Ascent Aborts in 2009.

‘Parachute Test Vehicle in development. Pilot drop tests: Jan-Mar ’07. Drogue drop tests: Mar-Nov ’07. Single Main drop tests: May-Oct ’07. Cluster drop tests: Nov ’07 – Apr ’08. Pad Abort-1: Jan ’09. Ascent Abort-1: May ’09,’ noted the presentation.

L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation:
Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) overview presentation – Jan 16. Major changes to Ares I Upper Stage – expansive details and data. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. Saturn Twang Test Video for use with Ares I-1R. CLV Umbilical Trade Matrix XLS.

Vehicle interfaces for the DAC 1C version of Orion Ares – Jan 3. Ares I-1R Test Flight Plan (full outline) Presentation. Ares I-1 timeline and modification expanded info. Ares I troubleshooting latest. Ares I Reference Trajectory. Boeing’s STS to Ares – Lessons Learned Presentation. Latest Ares I and Ares V baseline Configuration image and data. CLV DAC-1C (Changes to CLV Upper Stage).

Ares I-1: Four Seg+Dummy ‘Tuna Can’ stage. Ascent Developmental Flight Test Presentation. CLV Pad 39B Handover Info and Latest. New images of CLV on top of new MLP and LUT. Lockheed Martin CEV/Orion Updates. Constellation news updates. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV.

90 Minute Video of Constellation all hands meeting. CLV TIM Meeting Information. CLV/CaLV Infrastructure, Timelines and Information. Escape System Trade Study Presentation.

CEV-CLV Design Analysis Cycle Review (DAC-2) Presentation. Constellation SRR updates. CLV Stick – Troubleshooting/Alternatives/Updates. New CEV Images (include abort mode). Flight Design and Dynamics Division CEV update. CLV Mono-propellant RCS system. CEV pressurisation system review. CLV/CEV Configuration Images. The 2×3 Seg SRB Crew Launch Vehicle Option Presentation…plus more.

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