The water-impact tests, which include throwing the capsule into a large tank of water, are similar to those conducted a few years ago, but the crew module has since been modified with structural changes based on data from wind tunnel tests and an early flight test.
On Tuesday, March 23, the first of four proposed dunkings of Orion took place at NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia, with the spacecraft being lowered from a height of just 18 inches.
“The simulations… will model a few landing scenarios as closely as possible to real-world conditions,” the space agency said on March 24. “While NASA has conducted a number of tests at the basin in the past, the latest tests use a new crew module configuration that reflects the spacecraft’s final design.”
The splashdown data will aid engineers in gaining a better understanding of what Orion and its crew could encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean at the end of an Artemis mission to the moon. The procedure is also a critical component of the spacecraft’s formal certification programme, which includes structural design and requirement verification in preparation for its first lunar flight.
Orion can hold up to six crew members and can stay undocked for up to 21 days or docked for up to six months. The core stage of NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will take the Orion spacecraft into space, underwent its first full-length hot fire test last week.
In November 2021, NASA plans to launch the first Artemis lunar flight. The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will be tested as an integrated device during Artemis I, which will include an uncrewed fly-by of the moon. The Artemis II will navigate the same route as the Artemis, but with a crew on board.
Artemis III would attempt to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface, which will be the first astronaut moon landing since 1972, if those missions go as planned. The highly awaited Artemis III mission is set to launch in 2024, but the deadline may be pushed back.