The Ares I crew launch vehicle first-stage solid rocket motor's 20.7m (68ft)-diameter drogue parachute was successfully drop tested on 24 July at the US Army's Yuma proving ground by NASA and its contractors.

Researchers dropped the drogue parachute and its 16,300kg (36,000lb) load that simulated the spent first-stage motor from a US Air Force Boeing C-17 flying at 25,000ft. Part of the reusable first-stage motor's recovery system, the drogue parachute is designed to slow its descent following separation from the Ares I rocket's upper stage at 189,000ft.

After separation 126s into the ascent and then free-falling for about 15,700ft, the first-stage's nose cap is jettisoned. The pilot parachute is then released, which in turn releases the drogue, slowing the stage's descent from 350kt (645km/h) to 180kt and manoeuvring the motor into a vertical position.

After the drogue chute a cluster of three main parachutes, each 45.7m in diameter, will be deployed. The main parachutes continue to slow the booster until its splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

"This is the sixth in an ongoing series of tests supporting development of the Ares I parachute recovery system. The next drogue parachute test is scheduled for October, and testing will continue through 2010. The drogue parachute also will be used during NASA's first test flight for the Ares rocket, the Ares I-X, scheduled to take place in 2009," says NASA.

The future tests will also take place at the Yuma proving ground as the US Army is providing the test range, support facilities and equipment for the parachute testing. Like the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, the Ares I first stage will be recovered and refurbished for future flights.

Source: Flight International