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Orion Drops Vertically for the First Time

The first vertical drop test of the Orion test article from 2.25-feet, and at a 17-degree angle. Testing at NASA Langley's Hydro Impact Basin simulates water-landing scenarios the capsule could face landing in the ocean.
Credit: NASA/Gary Banziger

By: Denise Lineberry

On Thursday, the Orion team conducted the first vertical drop test at NASA Langley's Hydro Impact Basin (HIB), which will help fine-tune the way NASA predicts Orion's landing loads.

This drop was the first of ten vertical drops that will measure the rate at which the loads travel through the structure. Repeated drops will introduce higher heights, and higher degrees of angles.

On the sideline of the Hydro Impact Basin, stood about 30 DC congressional staff who represented a variety of members from across the country, including several on NASA authorization and appropriations committees.

Before the 2.25-foot, 17-degree drop, Lisa Jones of Langley's Structures Testing Branch explained the long lineage of testing that has been done at the Landing and Impact Research facility.

Jones explained that, in looking for a location for a water basin to start testing, this facility was a prime location because of the expertise and releasing mechanisms already available.

Vertical drop test for Orion MPCV.

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Dropped from only 2.25-feet, the 18,000 pound Orion test article still makes a sizable splash in this vertical drop test at NASA Langley's Hydro Impact Basin.
Credit: NASA/Michael Finneran

Congressional staff and interns.

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About 30 staff and interns representing a variety of Members of Congress, toured NASA Langley and witnessed the first vertical drop test for Orion MPCV.
Credit: NASA/Denise Lineberry

"We've been doing this for 40 years," Jones said.

There were, and are, no other facilities with the capability to drop a vehicle into water with combined horizontal and vertical velocities. Drop testing with combined velocities took place last summer, and the addition of vertical tests aim to certify the Orion spacecraft for water landings.

The visit to a NASA center was a first for almost all of the congressional staff. Earlier in the day, they received an insider's look at the 14 x 22 Subsonic Tunnel and the Large Space Structures Lab. After lunch, they enjoyed a presentation about Langley's critical role in the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

"With the end of the space shuttle program, I think some of the public was confused about the direction of NASA," said Sally Phillips, who represented Congressman Jeff Duncan. (R-SC) "But the work here is in full force, and not ending. This splash test is an example of ultimate progress."

With the House and Senate on recess, this was the largest congressional group to ever visit the center, according to Donna Lawson, Langley's Legislative Affairs Officer.

"This was an incredible opportunity to tell them about NASA Langley's leading-edge research for Orion and Space Launch System (SLS), and our work with commercial companies," said Lawson. "This was a diverse and influential group."

More than being told about research, the visitors were able to see some of that progress first-hand.

As the test capsule "belly flopped" into the water basin, and waves crashed out in a circular form, observers applauded and inquisitive minds began to ask more questions.

The first space-bound Orion capsule will launch on Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, an uncrewed launch planned for 2014. This test will see Orion travel farther into space than any human spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years. Orion will carry astronauts into space, providing emergency abort capability, sustaining the crew during space travel, and ensuring safe re-entry and landing.

For more information on Orion, visit:


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Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman