Splish, Splash, Orion Takes a Bath
The Orion spacecraft is a capsule built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, to deep space and eventually Mars. But before astronauts travel inside this new vehicle, we have to perform tests to ensure their safety.
One of these tests that we’ll talk about today simulates an ocean splashdown. Water impact testing helps us evaluate how Orion may behave when landing under its parachutes in different wind conditions and wave heights. The spacecraft has been undergoing a series of these tests at our Langley Research Center’s Hydro Impact Basin…which is our fancy way of saying pool.
Inside the capsule were two test dummies – one representing a 105-pound woman and the other, a 220-pound man — each wearing spacesuits equipped with sensors. These sensors will provide critical data that will help us understand the forces crew members could experience when they splash down in the ocean.
This specific drop was the ninth in a series of 10 tests taking place at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. It was designed to simulate one of the Orion spacecraft’s most stressful landing scenarios, a case where one of the capsule’s three main parachutes fails to deploy. That would cause Orion to approach its planned water landing faster than normal and at an undesirable angle.
Under ideal conditions, the Orion capsule would slice into the water of the Pacific Ocean traveling about 17 miles per hour. This test had it hitting the pool at about 20 mph, and in a lateral orientation. Instead of being pushed down into their seats, astronauts in this scenario would splashdown to the side.
With this test’s success and one final drop in this series scheduled for mid-September, researchers have accumulated a lot of important information.
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