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How to watch NASA drop its next spaceship out of a plane

Tune in as the space agency tests Orion's complex parachute system.

NASA is preparing for the launch of its next spacecraft designed to carry humans, the Orion capsule, by tossing it off an aircraft 6 miles above the ground.

The goal is not to see how well Orion bounces, but rather to test the parachute system that'll hopefully allow it to glide to a soft landing after returning astronauts from the moon and beyond on future missions. 

This final parachute test is set for Wednesday at 10:15 a.m. ET from the US Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. The whole thing will be broadcast live on NASA TV, the YouTube feed above and Orion's Facebook page. NASA will take questions from the public during the live broadcast via the social media hashtag #AskNASA.

Orion is the spacecraft NASA has been developing for several years now as a successor to the space shuttle for missions that could include the moon, Mars and perhaps the outer solar system. Its first unmanned test launch, Exploration Mission 1, is currently set for 2020 atop the Space Launch System, NASA's new and oft-delayed massive rocket system.

During Wednesday's test, Orion will be dropped from a C-17 aircraft, and the series of 11 parachutes and pyrotechnic thrusters used to slow the capsule's descent will be checked out. 

First, three forward bay cover parachutes will be deployed at the same time as the thrusters, which separate the crew capsule from the cover that acts as a heat shield during re-entry into the atmosphere. A few seconds later two drogue parachutes deploy to slow and stabilize Orion before being released. Around a minute later, three pilot parachutes are released, which help lift and deploy the three main parachutes that then slow the craft all the way to a soft splashdown in the ocean.

You can watch it all live Wednesday morning, perhaps as you're waiting around for Apple's big iPhone event a few hours later at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET.

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