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NASA Tests Orion Parachutes, Concludes Other Tests for Journey to Mars

Oct 07, 2016 04:40 AM EDT

NASA has concluded a series of tests in preparation for the much-anticipated Journey to Mars. The space agency and its industry partners for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft have aced a series of summer tests for the first integrated flight, the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which is scheduled in 2018.

According to a press release, the mission involves sending Orion about 40,000 miles beyond the moon --farther from Earth than any manned spacecraft has ever traveled.

"Crew safety is the highest priority as NASA prepares to send astronauts into deep space and eventually, Mars," Tony Antonelli, chief technologist for Lockheed Martin's civil space exploration programs, said in a statement. "A rigorous flight test program is critical to ensuring all systems are ready for the journey."

The most recent was a series of qualification tests on Orion's parachute system, which started on Sept. 30. To examine the parachute system, a dart-shaped test article was dropped from a C-17 aircraft at an altitude of over 35,000 feet (6.5 miles) over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.

The parachutes will slow Orion down from its high-speed reentry of 25,000 mph to about 17 mph to prepare for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. When returning from missions, the parachute sequence typically begins at an altitude of 24,000 feet, with the main parachutes fully deployed at about 4,000 feet.

"The parachute system performed as we expected and getting to this new stage of qualification testing is a real landmark as we prepare for Orion missions with crew," CJ Johnson, project manager for Orion's parachute system at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.

This fall, the parachute team will begin tests to qualify the system for human flights, which will include eight drop tests that will simulate different landing scenarios.

NASA has also concluded other crucial tests for the mission. In June, Orbital ATK completed the rocket booster qualification testing, followed by a test firing of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engines, which will power the core stage of SLS.

Also recently, NASA has completed the welding on the liquid hydrogen tank for the SLS rocket's core stage.

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