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Orion Scale Model Tested in the Water
Scale model of the Orion crew exploration vehicle

A 1/4th-scale model of the Orion spacecraft is lowered into the 6.2-million-gallon Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Engineers used the test to gather data on how the model behaved and reacted in the water. Photo Credit: NASA

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Scale models of the Orion crew exploration vehicle recently were tested at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, or NBL, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and at a wave tank at Texas A&M University in College Station.

NASA conducted a series of buoyancy and flotation characteristics tests using the NBL and a 1/4-scale model of the Orion crew capsule. The model was lowered into the NBL’s 6.2-million-gallon pool and was floated in a series of positions. This testing will allow the engineers and the NBL team to develop their full-scale crew training mock-up that will be used for mission training and for creating the crew safety procedures for water-based landings of the Orion crew capsule.

The team also performed a series of tests to validate a new seal design and updated wireless communications. Engineers also evaluated a prototype floatation collar for the spacecraft, which was provided by NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“It is rewarding to see an actual scale model of Orion finally being tested in the water,” said Alan Rhodes, a NASA engineer who was observing the testing. “The NBL is a one-of-a-kind testing facility for NASA, and the team helped us gather a tremendous amount of critical data that we will use to refine the design of Orion.”

A smaller scale model of the Orion crew capsule also was tested at a wave tank at Texas A&M University. The goal of the test was to determine how the spacecraft reacts to strong waves while it floats in the water. Engineers simulated gale force winds and large waves to ensure the spacecraft would remain upright.

The next step for the team will be to partner with a team of naval architects from the United States Navy to conduct a series of flotation characteristics and towing tests to help further understand how the Orion crew capsule will act in different sea states and to help generate recovery procedures. The next round of testing will be held in October at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock, Md., and at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.

Along with the scaled testing, NASA and the United States Navy began fabrication of a full-scale test article that will allow search and rescue divers from the Human Space Flight Support team at the Kennedy Space Center to begin working with an Orion mock-up in the water. These tests will allow the team to review current recovery procedures and to understand how changing sea states will affect the overall recovery operation. Full-scale testing will take place off the coast of Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center, in January 2009.