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WireCo WorldGroup
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The history behind the NASA Project


In 2007 NASA set out to provide a space capsule named “Orion” that would replace the retired space Shuttle program and provide transportation to astronauts to the International Space Station, the Moon and Mars. It was the legacy of a company called MacWhyte that made WireCo the “go-to” company when NASA contacted Airborne Systems, the direct supplier of the parachutes. MacWhyte had supplied the parachute assemblies for the Apollo back in the 1960s.

WireCo’s Global Market Director of Structures, Richard Humiston, was contacted by Airborne Systems in 2010 and asked to develop a light, strong and more abrasion resistant wire rope than ever seen before. The ropes were to be used with NASA’s Orion space capsule parachutes. The engineers at NASA were looking for a product that had a history, and they were excited to see the field application use of the XLT-4s in crane rope. NASA needed a wire rope design that was stainless steel, clean, and incredibly strong with the smallest diameter.

Dr. Bamdad Pourladian, Director of R&D at WireCo, worked with a team of engineers at NASA, ASNA, and Lockheed Martin to develop a rope that would meet the requirements of the project. The XLT-4 rope was seen by NASA as a superior wire rope design because of its suitability for dynamic conditions and robustness against harsh environments and bending stresses. Once this rope was selected WireCo engineers started to custom engineer an XLT-4 rope that would meet NASA’s stringent standards.

The result? An XLT-4 rope that boasts the highest strength to weight ratio on the market today.

Since then, extensive testing of the custom rope has been conducted in laboratories to prevent kinking and twisting during deployments, and to improve the strength and tolerance of the rope. Now field tests are being conducted to evaluate the rope’s performance in simulated parachute free falls.

Humiston applauds WireCo’s success on this project, saying “The competence of our engineering staff and quality of products has been recognized for use in a critical application in a demanding and harsh environment. It requires a lot of teamwork between engineering and product development to be successful - and not just for this product, for all products.”

In 2013, we should see the first test of WireCo parachute riser assemblies with humans operating the capsule as intended. NASA has plans to launch the Orion into space no later than 2014. Upon its return to Earth, Bamdad plans to research the performance of the first XLT-4 to go into space.