WireCo Cables Bring NASA Space Capsule Back to Earth

On December 5th, NASA’s Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) of the Orion Space Capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The splashdown in the Pacific occurred 4.5 hours later under parachutes which were supported by WireCo steel riser assemblies— XLT4 Orion, designed exclusively for this project using a patented WireCo rope.

Airborne Systems of North America (ASNA) contacted WireCo WorldGroup in 2010 to design a strong, lightweight rope with more abrasion-resistance than ever seen before. The drogue parachute cables were designed by WireCo engineers Bamdad Pourladian, Kyle Bowland and Tim Klein. The cables were manufactured and tested in WireCo facilities in Missouri. Additional testing was performed at NASA proving grounds in Yuma, Arizona. WireCo worked with ASNA, NASA, Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering during the initial design and development phase.

Orion is NASA’s new spacecraft built to carry humans, designed to allow us to journey to destinations never before visited by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. On this un-crewed test flight, Orion tested systems critical to crew safety as it traveled farther into space than any spacecraft built for humans has traveled in more than 40 years.

During the 4.5-hour flight, Orion orbited the Earth twice, covering more than 60,000 miles (96,600 kilometers) and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) on the second orbit. That altitude allowed the spacecraft to return through the atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), which generated temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 degrees Celsius) on Orion’s heat shield.

The flight test validated systems such as Orion’s parachutes, avionics and altitude control. All of these systems must perform flawlessly to guarantee safe, successful missions in the future. Although they have been tested extensively on the ground, the space environment cannot be replicated completely on Earth, and Exploration Flight Test-1 provides critical data that will enable engineers to improve Orion’s design and reduce risk for the astronauts it will carry as NASA continues to move forward on its human journey to Mars.

Richard Humiston, WireCo Vice President and Global Market Director-Structures commented, “We are proud to be a part of this important project that will affect the future of space exploration. WireCo has a long history dating back to the 1960s and 1970s when we supplied parachute cables to NASA for the Apollo program.”

Read Wire Rope Exchange’s feature on WireCo’s work and the custom parachute assemblies made for the next generation of spaceflight.

About WireCo WorldGroup

WireCo® WorldGroup’s products are recognized throughout the world and used in a wide range of market applications. WireCo® WorldGroup employs approximately 4,000 people and is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, with manufacturing plants, distribution facilities and research and development centers around the world. For more information: www.wirecoworldgroup.com.

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