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Orion continues to make a splash

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(Dec. 5, 2011) — Testing continues at NASA Langley Research Center as the 18,000-pound (8,164.6 kg) Orion test article took its seventh splash into the Hydro Impact Basin Dec. 1.

Orion, NASA's next deep space exploration vehicle, will carry astronauts into space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and ensure safe re-entry and landing.

The testing, which began in this summer, simulates different water landing scenarios and takes into account different velocities, parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights and wind conditions that Orion may face when landing in the Pacific Ocean.

"We are doing several of these tests to look at the operational envelope for the Orion landing conditions and the analysts need as much data as we can possibly give them," said Lynn Bowman, SPLASH project manager. "In order to do it in as few cases possible, we have to look at these critical cases, which is not your average landing scenario or sea condition."

The Dec. 1 test was all about the heat shield and how much it would flex after hitting the water at a slightly different angle. Sea conditions simulated a low-wind swell case.

The test article was only two feet above the water before it dropped pancake-style into the water. It traveled about 7 mph (11.26 kph).

There are more than 150 sensors on the test article that record data during each test drop. The results of these initial tests will help improve the design for the actual flight vehicle.

The last drop of the year is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13.

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