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NE@Orion MPCV Drop Test
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NE@Orion MPCV Drop Test

The NASA Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) Drop Test
- Mark Kirasich
- Lynn Bowman

NASA Langley Research Center has a brand new pool (Hydro Impact Basin) for water landing tests! And the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is the very first test article to take the inaugural plunge. So check it out, NASA EDGE gets a drip-dry look at the new addition to the gantry with Mark Kirasich (Deputy Manager - Orion MPCV) and Lynn Bowman (Splash Project Manager.) Plus, you get to see the Orion MPCV drop test from enough angles to make the NFL replay team jealous. We don't want to spoil the call... but Orion scores! Touchdown, NASA!

[Intro Music]

CHRIS: Hey, welcome to NASA EDGE.

JACKY: An inside and outside look…

FRANKLIN: … at all things NASA.

BLAIR: Oh, that’s going to leave a mark.

[Music continues]

CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re here at NASA Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility.

FRANKLIN: Where, for many years they’ve tested all kinds of vehicles.

CHRIS: We have a new addition to the facility which is the Hydro Impact Basin.

FRANKLIN: Which you’ll see in a little bit is a big, giant, test swimming pool.

CHRIS: Right behind us is the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MPCV, test article that’s going to be dropped in the pool today. We’re going to be doing a water-landing test. But before we do that, we had a chance to catch up with some of the project managers from Johnson Space Center and Langley Research Center on the Orion MPCV at the ribbon cutting ceremony.


LESA ROE: NASA is on a reinvigorated path on exploration, innovation, and technological development leading to an array of challenging missions and destinations.

CHRIS: We’re here with Mark Kirasich, who is a deputy project manager for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. How are you doing?

MARK: Great.

CHRIS: Tell us, what is MPCV all about.

MARK: The Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is one of two key elements of our country’s new human space exploration program. This space launch system is the rocket, and the MPCV is the crew capsule. It’s a 5-meter capsule, slightly bigger than the Apollo which was a little bit less than a 4-meter capsule; weighs about 20,000 lbs.; seats 4 crew for the duration of the mission.

CHRIS: The whole idea behind MPCV, let’s say we’re going to Mars one day, would that capsule, itself, actually go to Mars or is that the capsule that will be in low-earth orbit and will go into a bigger spacecraft heading to Mars.

MARK: Yeah, MPCV will not only carry the crew to and from the surface of the earth. It will support the crew during their exploration missions. So doing an exploration mission all the way to Mars, there will have to be additional elements beyond the MPCV and the SLS to augment the capabilities of the spacecraft for that trip.

CHRIS: During the Constellation days, Orion was the vehicle and now that’s being worked into MPCV. Has it changed at all since the early Orion days?

MARK: When we transitioned from Constellation to New Exploration program, we reevaluated all the requirements for the human vehicle. What the vehicle needed to do to go visit other destinations, including low-earth objects, Mars, the moon, and amazingly enough there was so much flexibility built into Orion, the requirements were a perfect fit for the new exploration program.

FRANKLIN: The gantry has been repurposed from the time of the lunar lander, to dropping aircraft, now the pool here. How did we come up with the Hydro Impact Basin?

LYNN: Basically, Orion had made a decision to switch from a land landing to water landing. At that time there was no facility in the world that could do swings, and do swings into the water. There are a lot of facilities that do vertical drops in the water but we really needed to have a true landing scenario where you actually swing and drop in the water.

FRANKLIN: The Orion crew vehicle is similar to the Apollo vehicle.

LYNN: Right.

FRANKLIN: How did they test for splash tests with Apollo?

LYNN: Actually, they did the same type of test. They built a water basin over in California in Downey. They swung with a carriage swing parallelogram, just like we have here, and they swung and dropped the Apollo into the water basin.

CHRIS: How important is it to have facilities like this to conduct water landing tests?

MARK: Real tests are critical; super important to the development of any new spacecraft. This is a very unique facility here. It allows us to do two things. First of all, it allows us to repetitively drop the test article. So we can do tests over and over and over. And also with the gantry behind me, it allows us to carefully control the conditions at which we drop the spacecraft; things like its vertical velocity, horizontal velocity, and the angle at which it hits the water are all very important perimeters. We have to vary each of these perimeters to explore, what we call, the operational envelope of the Orion spacecraft.

FRANKLIN: When you look at the pool here, you have these markings back here. What are they used for?

LYNN: They are photogrammetry targets. We can use those as optical measurements. We put targets on the actual test vehicle, dots, black dots, with those two optical targets, you can determine the velocities, and test conditions at release. The water basin’s importance is really calibrating simulation models. We can do more simulations very cheaply rather than doing a lot of drop tests. You’ll need tests to validate your models. This is the purpose of the basin is to help validate our models, and verify that we know how to simulate water landings.

[mechanical release sound]

[splash of water]


CHRIS: Now, do you see an eventual water test in the ocean at some point in the future?

MARK: We don’t that in our plan. We can accomplish everything we need to do right here at this facility.

CHRIS: When can we expect to see MPCV in flight?

MARK: Well, our current flight test is planned for the late 2013, early 2014 time frame. We’re working with our headquarters’ colleagues and our partners at the Marshall Space Flight Center, who are developing the SLS, to sync up our schedules and budgets to develop the full schedule all the way to the first human flight. But we anticipate our first unmanned test flight in late ’13, early ’14.

FRANKLIN: Beyond tests on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, are there any future uses for it?

LYNN: Oh, there are a lot of uses for it, especially over in the helicopter, rotorcraft community, and also in the aerospace community. I know that Lisa Jones, the facility head, has several aerospace companies interested in dropping their aircraft here as well. We can accommodate those types of sizes as well.

[crashing sounds]

FRANKLIN: So, the life of the Hydro Impact Basin will out live the Orion and Return to Space program?

LYNN: Most likely it will still be here 50 years from now.

FRANKLIN: Okay. Thank you Lynn. I appreciate it.

LYNN: All right, thank you.

FRANKLIN: You’re watching NASA EDGE, an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

[mechanical release]

[water splash]

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