Orion’s parachute system is designed to ensure a safe landing for astronauts returning from deep space missions to Earth in the crew module at speeds exceeding 25,000 mph. While the Earth’s atmosphere acting on Orion’s heat shield will initially slow the spacecraft down to 325 mph, the parachutes are needed to get to a safe landing speed of 20 mph or less, making it a critical system.
- The Earth’s atmosphere slows Orion down from 25,000 mph to about 325 mph during entry, but parachutes will slow it down the rest of the way to about 17 mph for a gentle splashdown in the ocean.
- The parachute system has a total of 11 parachutes, and they all have to work carefully together.
- There are three 7 ft. forward bay cover parachutes that remove the forward bay cover, two 23 ft. drogue parachutes that slow and stabilize the crew module and three 11 ft. pilot parachutes that help to deploy the three 116 ft. main parachutes.
- The diameter of the three main parachutes combined would cover a football field from 10-yard line to 10-yard line.
- Each main parachute has 80 suspension lines. Each suspension line is rated to carry at least 1,500 lbs., which is strong enough to hold 6 adults with some margin to spare.
- The suspension lines on the three main parachutes combined are approximately 10 miles total length.
- The main parachutes are packed using a hydraulic press, using forces as high as 50,000 lbs. Their density is approximately 44 lbs. per cubic foot, which is roughly the same density as oak (and a much higher density than pine).
Source: NASA Press Kit