Orion hoping for success with second generation parachute system

by Chris Bergin

Orion teams are in the final stages of preparing for the first Generation II Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV2) airdrop at the end of this month. Following the failure of the last Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) test, the new system will be hoping for a successful outcome, when the vehicle is deployed out of the back of a C-17 aircraft over the US Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Orion Parachute Tests:

The tests – which had included testing the giant parachutes for since-cancelled Ares I first stage recovery – were enjoying a good amount of success until an Orion PTV (first generation) suffered a failure back in 2008, resulting in the vehicle crashing into the ground.

Although the boilerplate Orion mock up vehicle and PTV system consisted of eight parachutes, another 10 parachutes were required to drag the test vehicle out of the C-17 aircraft via a sledge or pallet system at 25,000 feet, providing the correct orientation, altitude and speed, whilst also allowing for the pallet to land safely on the ground under its own dedicated parachutes.

When the programmer chute failed to inflate after deployment, the correct test conditions were not met – critically including the requirement for the vehicle’s descent rate to be slowed down and to be correctly orientated for drogue chute deployment – resulting in the vehicle falling upside down at high speed.

With the increased velocity, when the two drogue chutes deployed, they were ripped off almost immediately due to the higher loads. The three main parachutes then deployed – again subjected to the higher loads – ripping two of them away from the vehicle.

The one remaining parachute valiantly remained attached, but was obviously unable to stop the vehicle crashing to Earth at high speed on its own, resulting in the destruction of most of the test hardware.

Another failure in 2010 was believed to be the fault of the pallet system itself, which allows the test vehicle to slide out of the back of the C-17.

The pallet apparently remained attached to the test vehicle, causing the duo to crash into the ground, again destroying most of the hardware.

However, this test was not officially recorded as a CPAS-related exercise, with the 2008 failure shown as the last CPAS PTV test – and failure.

“A quick heads up that the Orion test drop failed. Looks like the extraction system failed to release so the Orion chute system never deployed,” noted the memo acquired on the day of the 2010 failure via L2. “Still saving the remains but expecting minimal hardware recovery.”

Another Constellation-related parachute failure was suffered in 2007, when a Drop Test Vehicle (DTV) with an Ares I pilot parachute suffered a fault with the riser connecting the parachute to the DTV.

The vehicle – dropped from a C-130 at 17000 feet – was destroyed, with parts of the DTV needing to be extracted from depths of up to 30 feet below the surface.

The 2010 parachute test failure occurred during the period Orion was being cancelled by President Obama’s FY2011 budget proposal, prior to being fully reinstated, primarily as a Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) vehicle, by the 2010 Authorization Act.

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Orion PTV Mark II:

With Orion back into full operations, teams are preparing for a new test, involving a small-scale boilerplate Orion and a second generation CPAS (L2 Link to CPAS Gen II Hi Res Images).

“The Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) team continues preparation activities for the first Generation II Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV2) airdrop,” noted a February 2012 update presentation – available on L2 – Link to document).

“Some recent accomplishments include delivery of PTV avionics systems and main parachutes to Yuma, parachute compartment avionics and camera installations, and the start of panel and main parachute installation.

“Additional work over the next month will include drogue parachute packing and integration, parachute rigging on the CPAS PTV Separation System (CPSS) and installation of pyros. The first airdrop test opportunity is scheduled for February 29.”

The changes made for the Generation II PTV have not been published. However, an overview presentation for the CPAS system (available on L2 – Link to Document) did note changes were already in the pipeline, partly related to the 2008 failure.

These changes included the volume and shape of Main Deployment Bags – which are trapezoidal in design and have a new gusset system.

The improvements were based upon data collected during the failed July, 2008 drop test, along with numerous analytical/computer models relating to what was an ever-changing Orion capsule.

Orion’s design changes were mainly caused by Ares I’s insistence that the capsule should lose mass, a request sent numerous times during the days of the Constellation Program, resulting in fallout on the CPAS team, who noted in the aforementioned presentation that one of the Orion designs they had to work did not even contain the “volume” necessary for the main parachute system.

It is also likely the pallet system will have been modified based on the previous issues.

(Images: Via L2 and NASA). L2’s new Orion and Future Spacecraft specific L2 section includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal updates¬†on Orion and other future spacecraft.

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