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Monday, 7 February, 2000, 16:07 GMT
World's biggest parafoil flies

An eight tonne pallet simulated the actual X-38 An eight-tonne pallet simulated the actual X-38

The largest parafoil ever flown has successfully glided down to Earth.

The parachute had a span of 44 metres (143 feet) and a total surface area of 700 square metres (7,500 square feet). This area is almost one and half times bigger than the wings of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

It is being tested by the Nasa team developing the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, the "lifeboat" for the International Space Station. The flight took place recently at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Return trip

"This puts us a major step closer toward our goal of providing the space station with the most flexible crew return option," said John Muratore, who is leading the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle Project. "This parafoil has the size and all the features to enable it to be used for returning humans from space."

The test rig was dropped from a C-130 aircraft at an altitude of 6,500m (21,500ft).

The X-38 will carry up to seven astronauts The X-38 will carry up to seven astronauts
A newly-designed, 25m (80ft) diameter drogue parachute slowed its cargo to a vertical airspeed of 100 km/h (62 miles per hour) and enabled the parafoil to begin a five-stage deployment process.

During its 11-minute flight, the parafoil slowed the test load to a gentle vertical landing speed of less than 13 km/h (8 mph).

"This parafoil is so big there is no way that it can all deploy at once," said Brian Anderson, X-38 Project Manager. "Because of its size, the dynamic forces on the parachute's structure are phenomenal."

More X-38 tests are planned during the next year and a half, leading up to a space flight test in 2002. Then, an unmanned vehicle now under construction at the Johnson Space Center will be released in orbit by the Space Shuttle to fly back to Earth.

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See also:
25 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Next generation space planes are go
25 May 99 |  ISS
New test for space 'lifeboat'
04 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Space station at 'moment of truth'

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