Update 2:25 PM ET: Flop belly success! The cables holding the Orion capsule above the water have been separated, and the researchers have a fascinating look at how the spacecraft fell into a real environment. Future tests will include a drop from a greater height and a “swing test,” in which the unit is fired like a failed swing artist into a pool, giving NASA a look at both horizontal and vertical movement. The original article appears below.
NASA is preparing to drop 14,000 pounds of the Orion spacecraft model into a large basin in Virginia, the latest in a series of drop tests that led to the eventual Artemis II lunar mission. The test is set to 1:45 PM ET and will be watchable live on NASA TV (see broadcast below).
The prototype crew model will be dropped into NASA’s Hydro Impact Basin. The new series of tests began on March 23 and focuses on completing computer models of loads and structures prior to the 2023 manned flight to the moon, a mission called Artemis II (astronauts will not actually land on the moon during this mission – those I hope will come during Artemis III). The pool is 20 feet deep and contains nearly one and a half Olympic swimming pools. Projecting the capsule from different angles and at different speeds helps NASA engineers understand how the capsule endures real-world conditions, such as entering Earth’s atmosphere and spraying into the ocean.
Before the SpaceX Crew Dragon team landed in the Gulf of Mexico last August, 45 years had passed since NASA conducted a launch. Now half a century after the Apollo program, the Artemis missions will bring humans back to the moon, with plans to land our species on the moon with Artemis III in 2024. The missions should also see the astronauts safely return, swaying one more time in the ocean waters. Quiet.
NASA exercises every element of the landing, from Abort the system To recover spacecraft. The new drop tests will build on previous avalanches and raise NASA’s awareness of what Orion and his crew will experience in the crucial final moments of Artemis II’s return flight.