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NASA’s next-gen Orion spacecraft makes a splash in latest test

NASA’s next-generation Orion spacecraft has begun its latest round of splash tests in preparation for the upcoming Artemis lunar missions.

The water-impact tests, which involve dropping the capsule into a large tank of water, are similar to those carried out several years ago, but the crew module has since been upgraded with structural improvements based on data from wind tunnel tests and an earlier flight test.

Orion received the first of four planned dunkings at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia on Tuesday, March 23, with the spacecraft dropped from a height of just 18 inches.

Yesterday’s splash test was a success! The @NASA_Orion crew module will be making three more big splashes into our Landing and Impact Research Facility Hydro Impact Basin over the next month.

See more details about the drop tests here:

— NASA Langley Research Center (@NASA_Langley) March 24, 2021

“The tests … will simulate a few landing scenarios as close to real-world conditions as possible,” the space agency said on Wednesday, March 24. “While NASA performed a series of previous tests at the basin, the current tests use a new configuration of the crew module that represents the spacecraft’s final design.”

Data gathered from the splashdowns will help engineers get a better understanding of what Orion and its crew may experience when landing in the Pacific Ocean at the end of an Artemis mission to the moon. The process is also an important part of the spacecraft’s formal qualification program to fulfill structural design and requirement verification ahead of its first lunar mission.

Orion is designed to carry up to six crew members and can operate for up to 21 days undocked and up to six months docked.

Last week NASA conducted the first full-length hot fire test of the core stage of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will carry the Orion spacecraft into space.

NASA is aiming to launch its first Artemis lunar mission in November 2021. Artemis I will involve an uncrewed fly-by of the moon to test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system. Artemis II will take the same route, but with a crew traveling on board.

Assuming those missions go to plan, Artemis III will aim to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in what would be the first astronaut moon landing since 1972. NASA is targeting 2024 for the highly anticipated Artemis III mission, though the date may well slip.

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Trevor Mogg
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