Orion Drop Test Series Begins

Orion GTA vertical drop test at NASA LaRC's Imapact and Splash Basin. Image Credit: NASA

Orion GTA vertical drop test at NASA LaRC’s Imapact and Splash Basin. Image Credit: NASA

April 8, 2016 – Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, kicked off a series of nine drop tests using a representative Orion crew capsule with crash test dummies inside to understand what the spacecraft and astronauts may experience when landing in the Pacific Ocean after deep-space missions.

The high-fidelity capsule, coupled with the heat shield from Orion’s first flight in space, was hoisted approximately 16 feet above the water and vertically dropped into Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin.

Water impact testing is one of many steps required to ensure Orion will meet the demands of sending humans to deep space. Orion will carry astronauts into space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and ensure safe re-entry and landing.

Each test in the series simulates different scenarios for Orion’s parachute-assisted landings, wind conditions, velocities and wave heights the spacecraft may experience when touching down in the ocean.

Two test dummies – one representing a 105-pound woman and the other a 220-pound man to assess the impact on different-sized people – have been installed in the crew seats of the Orion mockup. Prior to installation, engineers placed tiny sensors inside the test dummies, which will be used to help NASA understand the loads the crew could experience when returning from deep space destinations. The capsule itself is also wired with sensors that allow engineers to collect data during the water-impact testing.

NASA engineers install a male and female test dummy into a water landing Orion test article. Test dummies are used to collect data on the impact astronauts could experience when splashing down in the Pacific Ocean during a NASA space mission. Image Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman

NASA engineers install a male and female test dummy into a water landing Orion test article. Test dummies are used to collect data on the impact astronauts could experience when splashing down in the Pacific Ocean during a NASA space mission. Image Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman

During the first three tests, engineers will drop the capsule vertically at different angles into the basin. For those tests the dummies are not equipped with suits and helmets.

After the third test, the dummies will be outfitted with spacesuits and helmets. After the four vertical tests are completed, the capsule will undergo a series of five swing tests. The dummies will remain in the seats fully suited for those.

Collecting data on the crash test dummies with and without suits allows engineers to make comparisons, which will aid in the computer modeling of Orion’s splashdown and ensure astronauts will be protected from injury.

NASA is building Orion to launch atop the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) to carry astronauts to deep space destinations. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.

During Orion’s next mission, Exploration Mission-1, the uncrewed spacecraft will launch atop the SLS, travel more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon, and return at speeds up to 25,000 mph. After venturing thousands of miles, Orion will splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin is 115 feet long, 90 feet wide and 20 feet deep (38.1 x 27.4 x 6.1 meters) and is located at Langley’s historic Landing and Impact Research Facility, or Gantry, where Apollo astronauts trained for moonwalks. The Hydro Impact Basin is the only facility with the capability to drop a vehicle into water with combined horizontal and vertical velocities.