You might remember the Apollo 15 capsule had one parachute fail during its return to earth prompting the recovery ship USS Okinawa to radio to Worden, Irwin and Scott in the Command Module “You have a streamed chute. Stand by for a hard impact.”
A parachute failure is a credible scenario in even the most carefully designed recovery system, so a robust vehicle needs to accommodate that possibility through redundancies and margin designed and built into each subsystem that protects the astronauts during landing. The New Shepard crew capsule is designed to safely land the crew even in the event of a parachute failure.
As I mentioned briefly in the last e-mail, we’re about to do that test. In addition to redundant parachutes, the crew capsule is equipped with a two-stage crushable structure that absorbs landing loads, along with seats that use a passive energy absorbing mechanism to reduce peak loads to the occupant. As an added measure of redundancy, the crew capsule is equipped with a “retro rocket” propulsive system that activates just a few feet above the ground to lower the velocity to approximately 3 ft/sec at touchdown. This final maneuver causes the dust cloud you can see when the crew capsule lands.
We’re planning to demonstrate the redundancies built into the capsule on this re-flight of the vehicle by intentionally failing one drogue and one main parachute during descent. This should occur around 7 ½ minutes into the flight at an altitude of 24,000 feet.
Our other goals for this mission include continuing to learn about our reusable architecture by actually reusing it (this will be the fourth flight of the same hardware), further demonstrating the predictability and repeatability of vehicle performance, and executing pre-planned flight control maneuvers on the booster and crew capsule via fin deflections, TVC deflections and RCS firings to observe system response in order to reduce modeling uncertainties.
We’ll provide a heads up when we know the flight date, but it will likely be before the end of the month.