NASA engineers working at the Langley Research Center in the state of Virginia have initiated a new series of four water-impact drop tests using a trial version of the agency's Orion spacecraft capsule.
Taking place at Langley's Landing and Impact Research Facility Hydro Impact Basin in Hampton, the tests will reproduce landing scenarios to aid researchers in establishing an accurate prediction of what the Orion and its crew could experience upon landing in the Pacific Ocean following the upcoming Artemis moon missions.
The new tests are using a new crew module arrangement - produced at contractor Lockheed Martin’s Colorado facility - that "represents the spacecraft’s final design," according to a press release by NASA on Wednesday.
"Data from the water impact tests are part of the formal qualification test program to fulfill structural design and requirement verification before Artemis II, NASA’s first Artemis mission with crew", NASA wrote.
"Information will help feed final computer models for loads and structures prior to the Artemis II flight test".
The @NASA_Orion spacecraft is making a big splash! Engineers at @NASA_Langley began a series of four water impact drop tests to better understand what Orion & its crew may experience when they land in the Pacific Ocean after #Artemis missions to the Moon. https://t.co/sJorEGtxHT pic.twitter.com/7cFymFyp1l— Kathy Lueders (@KathyLueders) March 25, 2021
NASA wrote in an earlier release that several structural updates and improvements to the crew module had taken place and said that data from this year's tests would be included in the final computer modeling.
"This is less about trying to reduce model uncertainty and more about loading up to design limits, bringing the model higher in elevation and higher in load, not testing to requirements, but testing to extremes", Chris Tarkenton, the technical lead, outlined in November 2020.
Project Manager Bryan Russ said thousands of possibilities "will be whittled down to some critical cases. We’ll examine the data and make sure the models correlate to test and adjust models as needed to gain confidence".
"It helps us to know that the models are reliable and representative of what will be experienced during flight scenarios".
NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS), will be used in Artemis I at the end of 2021, and will launch Orion into orbit.
In what is scheduled to be the first of three missions, an uncrewed Orion will take a flight on the SLS rocket around the moon before returning to Earth.
By 2024, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon, to "explore more of the lunar surface than ever before" and lay the groundwork for the next step, sending humanity to Mars.