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NASA’s Orion spacecraft completes drop tests at Langley

Orion GTA vertical drop test at NASA LaRC's Impact Basin. Photo Credit: NASA

Orion GTA vertical drop test at NASA LaRC’s Impact Basin. Photo Credit: NASA

With all the excitement over the historic commercial events that took place in low-Earth orbit this past weekend, it almost went unnoticed that NASA’s new Orion spacecraft had also carried out an important milestone. The nine drop tests that a test article of the spacecraft finished were just the latest step that the space agency has carried out as it works to send astronauts to deep space destinations. 

The engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center loaded the vehicle with crash test dummies to simulate what crews would experience during a similar splash down scenario in the Pacific Ocean.

The agency used the heat shield that flew on the Orion spacecraft that carried out the December 2015 Exploration Flight Test 1 mission for these drop tests. Attached to the test article, it was raised about 16 feet into the air above Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin.

Once there, it was dropped vertically into the 20-foot-deep pool of water below.

The test article was heavily instrumented so as to provide the engineers working on Orion with as much data as possible regarding how the spacecraft would behave under such circumstances. Even the dummies within were instrumented so that modifications can be made to Orion to ensure crews’ safety during splashdown.

Each test that NASA conducts in this series will look into a different aspect that Orion will encounter after having completed its missions deep into the black of space. Wind conditions, landings via parachute, speed, and the conditions of the water that it plunges into are all being researched well before the first astronaut launches in the spacecraft.

Video courtesy of NASA Langley Research Center


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

SPLASH! That was impressive. How this great achievement by NASA could have been over shadowed by SpaceX is truly a mystery.

Or, we could just skip the slow and expensive part of all this and just ship the Orion capsule straight to a museum.

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