NASA is getting ready to drop a 6,350 kg mock-up of the Orion spacecraft into a large pool in Virginia, the latest in a series of drop tests leading up to the eventual Artemis II lunar mission. The test is set for 3:45 a.m. AEST and will be viewable live on the NASA TV (see stream below).
The drop of the mock-up crew module will take place at NASA’s Hydro Impact Basin. The new series of tests began March 23 and is focused on finalising computer models for loads and structures prior to the planned 2023 crewed flight to the Moon, a mission called Artemis II (astronauts won’t actually land on the Moon during this mission — that’ll come, hopefully, during Artemis III). The pool is 6.10 m deep and contains about one-and-a-half Olympic swimming pools worth of water. Dropping the capsule from different angles and at various velocities helps NASA engineers understand how the capsule will endure real-world conditions, such as entering Earth’s atmosphere and splashing down into the ocean.
Before the SpaceX Crew Dragon team landed in the Gulf of Mexico last August, it had been 45 years since NASA conducted a splashdown. Now a half-century since the Apollo program, the Artemis missions will take humans back to the Moon, with plans to actually land our species on the lunar surface with Artemis III in 2024. The missions must also see the astronauts safely back, bobbing once more in the waters of the Pacific.
NASA practices every element of the landing, from its abort system to spacecraft recovery. The new drop tests will build on the previous splashdowns and will further improve NASA’s awareness of what Orion and its crew will experience in the final, crucial moments of Artemis II’s return journey.