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NASA Orion Splashdown Safety Tests Completed

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the now-to-work-on-the-going-up-part dept.

NASA 49

DevotedSkeptic sends this news from NASA: "The 18,000-pound test article that mimics the size and weight of NASA's Orion spacecraft crew module recently completed a final series of water impact tests in the Hydro Impact Basin at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The campaign of swing and vertical drops simulated various water landing scenarios to account for different velocities, parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights and wind conditions the spacecraft may encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean. The next round of water impact testing is scheduled to begin in late 2013 using a full-sized model that was built to validate the flight vehicle's production processes and tools."

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Why water? (3, Informative)

courcoul (801052) | about 2 years ago | (#41490405)

Why is it that USA space tech prefers water splashdowns instead of dry land like the Russians and Chinese?

"Softer landings" doesn't quite cut it as a reason, for at the speed of the impact, water is just as hard as terra firma. Then there's the risk of crew drowning and/or craft loss thru sinking. That doesn't occur in dry land.

Re:Why water? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41490465)

hmm, HRTA, but I NASA may just be testing that it can land in water not necessarily planning to land them in it. One thing a water landing gets you though is a wide open area of without people to injure.

Re:Why water? (2)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 2 years ago | (#41490505)

Why is it that USA space tech prefers water splashdowns instead of dry land like the Russians and Chinese?

Maybe because we also have a large enough Navy to support it.

Re:Why water? (3, Insightful)

rillopy (650792) | about 2 years ago | (#41490607)

In the 60's it used to have to do with geography/pop density - having a large enough unpopulated and flat area such that missing the landing zone by a large margin wouldn't land them in mountains or on a town. Russia has that, the USA did/does not.

Re:Why water? (2)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | about 2 years ago | (#41491017)

We do have this place called Nevada.

Re:Why water? (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 2 years ago | (#41491547)

Overrun a couple hundred miles and you might get the mountains in Utah or the Grand Canyon. Undershoot, and you get California.

Re:Why water? (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | about 2 years ago | (#41491623)

Hmmm. There's also Alaska.

Re:Why water? (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 2 years ago | (#41494619)

Uh...Alaska has some pretty inhospitable terrain.

Re:Why water? (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 2 years ago | (#41494915)

It's too high, a capsule from ISS won't be able to reach it.

Re:Why water? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#41496857)

The unpopulated bits of which are places no sane person want to land.

Re:Why water? (1)

Alien Being (18488) | about 2 years ago | (#41490631)

Terra is firma.

Re:Why water? (5, Informative)

mk1004 (2488060) | about 2 years ago | (#41490791)

Just as I remembered, NASA lands capsules in the water because that doesn't require braking rockets to slow down just before landing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splashdown_(spacecraft_landing) [wikipedia.org] Water landing allows cancellation of final velocity in a few feet rather than a few inches. At a few MPH, water isn't as hard as terra firma. And there usually aren't many icebergs around, nor other issues, regardless of Gus Grissom's experience.

Re:Why water? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 years ago | (#41491111)

Just as I remembered, NASA lands capsules in the water because that doesn't require braking rockets to slow down just before landing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splashdown_(spacecraft_landing) [wikipedia.org] Water landing allows cancellation of final velocity in a few feet rather than a few inches. At a few MPH, water isn't as hard as terra firma. And there usually aren't many icebergs around, nor other issues, regardless of Gus Grissom's experience.

Yes, finding an iceberg-free salt flats is a real problem, particularly in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. Why, the very names send chills to the bones!

Re:Why water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41505817)

Nevada isn't Iowa... there are more mountain ranges in NV than any other state (of course, its size has something to do with that stat). I think that the USA has proven they can do Pacific splashdowns in a pretty straightforward manner, but the idea of landing in either desolate/mountainous terrain or potentially populated terrain is less proven.

Because gee, why not? (2)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41490857)

The Russians have Kazakhstan (6 people km^2), The Chinese have Inner Mongolia (1 person per km^2). I'm not sure how large a landing zone is needed, but I suspect nothing big enough exists in the U.S.

The lame thing is that we're back to uncontrolled re-entry and disposable spacecraft. I personally consider the Orion a huge step backwards. My dislike is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that the same short-sightedness that gave us such a useless vehicle also guarantees that no serious mission for it will ever be funded.

 

Re:Because gee, why not? (5, Informative)

thrich81 (1357561) | about 2 years ago | (#41491105)

The Apollo Command Module was not "uncontrolled" on reentry. Its center of gravity was intentionally offset from the spacecraft's centerline. This gave it a semi-gliding (admittedly steep but not non-existent) capability. Thus they could control the direction of the reentry aerodynamically by using thrusters to rotate the spacecraft and so control the direction of "glide". There was a lot more capability to that Apollo-Saturn stack than is visible or well known!

Re:Because gee, why not? (0)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41491621)

But they still couldn't direct the flight path well enough to bring it down safely in, say, Arizona. That's close enough to "uncontrolled" for me.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41495821)

But they still couldn't direct the flight path well enough to bring it down safely in, say, Arizona. That's close enough to "uncontrolled" for me.

Do you want to impact with the ground at those speeds, or impact with the water ... I'm betting the former is a splat and a crater, and the latter is a splash and a wave.

Methinks survivability of the splash is better than the splat.

Re:Because gee, why not? (2)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 years ago | (#41493605)

"The Russians have Kazakhstan (6 people km^2)"

The Kazakhs will be glad to hear, that 21 years after their independence from Russia Americans still haven't got the news.

Re:Because gee, why not? (2)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41494137)

Yeah, I had heard about the breakup of the Soviet Union. (It was in the news) I guess you hadn't heard that Russian launch and recovery operations are still operating there.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 years ago | (#41501661)

" I guess you hadn't heard that Russian launch and recovery operations are still operating there."

I did hear that. I also heard the the Russians definitely don't _have_ Kazakhstan but just _rent_ Baikonur for 115 million $ a year, which according to the Kazakhs is not enough and they have been disputing that price for years.

That's why the Russians are constructing the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Oblast, to get the hell out of Kazakhstan.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41501731)

God, talk about about silly nitpicking. So, I can't say, "I have an apartment in Portland" because I don't own it?

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 years ago | (#41506053)

I see you can't let go.:-)

It's more like you as an 800 pound gorilla invading the 9th biggest apartment on earth, killing some inhabitants, evicting others, live there for decades for free and when finally the fun is over you still don't get your ass out by saying that you will gladly pay 50$ rent, even if the owners don't want you there...

Yes, since you ask, I guess, yes, the owners don't want you going around boasting that you 'have' their apartment.

But now we have to stop this 'silly nitpicking' since we can't agree on the degree of sensitivity.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41507351)

"I se you can't let go" he says, in an effort t get in the last word

Bored now.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 2 years ago | (#41494815)

The lame thing is that we're back to uncontrolled re-entry and disposable spacecraft. I personally consider the Orion a huge step backwards.

I understand. But there are other arguments.

I believe the idea behind Orion is to provide a place for humans to survive in pretty much any environment. Send it to the Moon. Send it to an L2 point. Send it to geosynchronous orbit. How do we get it to these places? Stick it on top of a rocket that goes there. Whether it's a NASA-built heavy lift vehicle or something from Space-X or whatever.

Don't get me wrong--Shuttle landings were always cool. But the shuttle was limited in a lot of ways by the "reusable" aspect that never really worked out. Personally, I'd rather have a more capable but less cool spacecraft with an Orion capsule attached than a cooler spacecraft that can't go anywhere interesting.

Re:Because gee, why not? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41495115)

The shuttle didn't work out because they tried to reusability on the cheap. The fact that they tried it once and screwed up in a badly managed program proves nothing.

A Saturn V launch cost about a billion in 2012 dollars.We have to drive that cost down, or there will never be serious manned exploration of deep space. No moon bases, no trips to Mars. We'll just be doing silly PR missions like the ISS forever. And we're not going to have a cheaper delivery system until we stop leaving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardwsare all over the ocean floor.

Re:Why water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41491061)

It's because they don't want to have to waste money on rebuilding it every time it fails a test. They just want the results of the test. After all they already know what will happen if it fails and hits hard ground.

Re:Why water? (5, Informative)

WegianWarrior (649800) | about 2 years ago | (#41491067)

Why is it that USA space tech prefers water splashdowns instead of dry land like the Russians and Chinese?

"Softer landings" doesn't quite cut it as a reason, for at the speed of the impact, water is just as hard as terra firma. Then there's the risk of crew drowning and/or craft loss thru sinking. That doesn't occur in dry land.

Because landing in water means you can get away with a higher landing speed without putting too many Gs on the astronauts - ref the Wikipedia article on splashdown [wikipedia.org] . The Russians (né Soviet) capsules lands on land because the Russians have so much open space available, but that means they have to carry either a larger parachute and/or one or more braking rockets to lower the impact speed to something tolerable. AFAIK the first Russian capsules that the cosmonauts rode all the way down - the jury-rigged Vostok they called Voskhod - carried their braking rockets attached to it's parachute lines...

A capsule landing on land also needs to be sturdier to take the increased shock loads, both from the impact and from the application of the braking rockets. This means you either needs a bigger rocket to get it up there, or less internal space for the astronauts / cosmonauts to move about in. A landing on land may not sink, but it does run the risk of taking a roll once it's down - ref Soyuz 18a [wikipedia.org] .

Another reason given for the American preference for landing in water compared to the Russian preference for landing on land is the location of the launch sites. An American early abort will dump the capsule in the Atlantic ocean, whereas a Russian early abort will see the capsule come down on the steppe. That said, the current Russian capsules are rated for landing in water, just in cause - refer to Soyus 23 [wikipedia.org] landing on a frozen lake and punching through the ice.

The Chinese seems to favour a land landing as well, which makes sense considering their landmass, lack of a large blue water fleet and the simple fact that their Shenzhou spacecraft seems to be based on / borrows heavily from the Russian Soyuz capsule.

In short; landing on water lets you get away with a lighter spacecraft, and does away with the need for a very large parachute and/or braking rockets. This means you can get away with a smaller rocket, or carry more supplies for a given size rocket.

Re:Why water? (3, Informative)

Medievalist (16032) | about 2 years ago | (#41493269)

Why is it that USA space tech prefers water splashdowns instead of dry land like the Russians and Chinese?

IAAFRS. It's cheaper, safer, and fails more elegantly (more likely to give you a recoverable crew module that can be analyzed). Korolev might have preferred wet landings but the USSR's leadership did not trust the US Navy.

"Softer landings" doesn't quite cut it as a reason, for at the speed of the impact, water is just as hard as terra firma.

Nope, the capsules land very slowly, on the end of parachutes after significant braking.

Early Soviet designs eject the pilot & flight recorder on a sled which then parachutes down. The actual capsule pancakes at fairly high speed and is completely destroyed, unlike water-landed capsules.

Then there's the risk of crew drowning and/or craft loss thru sinking. That doesn't occur in dry land.

Those are very real risks, but keep in mind that the capsule is a viable space environment, so pretty similar to a submarine.

Re:Why water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41496007)

IAAFRS

I Am A Fucking Rocket Surgeon?

Re:Why water? (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about 2 years ago | (#41514351)

Pretty close! Former Rocket Scientist. With friends and family still in the business... but I sold out for those rectangular pieces of paper the government prints. The pay scale in any real science sucks, because there's so many people lining up to do it for pennies. So now I do make-work of no lasting value whatsoever, for much more money, which lets me adopt children and buy electric vehicles and stuff. It's a trade-off.

Re:Why water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41496661)

probability perhaps? planet is covered with more water than exposed land?

Re:Why water? (1)

quenda (644621) | about 2 years ago | (#41497255)

Why is it that USA space tech prefers water splashdowns instead of dry land like the Russians and Chinese?

So the Navy can get a piece of the budget. Or for whatever reasons the Navy lobbyists told them they prefer it.

Cannonball! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41490419)

Kinda sad if this is really news - it's just a minor engineering test. But I have to admit dropping multi ton objects in a pond would be a fun job.

Wait'll you see the Star Destroyer! (2, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41490817)

I'm still irritated they're misusing the name Orion, which is already associated with a particular type of spacecraft.

Re:Wait'll you see the Star Destroyer! (0)

Antipater (2053064) | about 2 years ago | (#41491099)

Maybe you can design Project Scorpio to supplant it, slowly draining it of funds until only you remain?

Langley (1)

mu51c10rd (187182) | about 2 years ago | (#41491051)

NASA has facilities in Langley? The conspiracy theorists must have a field day with that...

Re:Langley (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 2 years ago | (#41492053)

NASA has facilities in Langley? The conspiracy theorists must have a field day with that...

Not CIA Langley, the other Langley. Colocated with Langley AFB, in southeast VA.

Didn't they? (2)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 years ago | (#41491143)

Didn't they already do splashdown tests a couple of years ago? I can remember NASA conducting airbag tests for landing on land.

Re:Didn't they? (1)

Necron69 (35644) | about 2 years ago | (#41491847)

Maybe it's just me, but I don't recall SpaceX's Dragon capsule having to go through round after round of drop testing. I do recall one set, but that's it. Why a simple development test is really worthy of repeated news releases is beyond me.

Perhaps this is typical NASA contractor testing overkill. 'Well, it tested fine, but we'll do just one more round of testing that can't happen for six more months. Keep writing those checks, NASA.'

Necron69

Re:Didn't they? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 years ago | (#41492611)

There's really only three things you need to know with a water landing:

Is the craft watertight?
Well, it is airtight, so... next!

Which way does it float?
Well, obviously you want it to float pointy end up so you can get the crew out without them having to don scuba gear etc. That means you *design* the capsule so that it rights itself. If you get through the design phase and the manufacturing phase and you're conducting drop tests because you're not sure that it will right itself... well, then there's some serious flaws in your design process; especially with the ability to run computer simulations on these things before a single component even gets manufactured.

Will it survive the impact with the water?
Again design issues that should have been worked out before they started bending metal.

So the only point for drop tests is for "devil is in the details" / "reality is the best simulator" / "have we forgotten anything" tests, which should only take a couple of drops to do; and as training exercises for the recovery teams.

Re:Didn't they? (1)

drerwk (695572) | about 2 years ago | (#41493055)

Perhaps this is typical NASA contractor testing overkill.

My guess is contractor PR overkill - need to get as much press as SpaceX you know.

Its the 1960's all over again (0)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | about 2 years ago | (#41491487)

what a disappointing step backwards for space flight.

Sea better as doesn't need terminal speed arrest (2)

PerMolestiasEruditio (1118269) | about 2 years ago | (#41491903)

Really the only downside to splashdown is potential corrosion of parts of the capsule, but given amount of refurb work that will go on anyway this is probably a pretty minor consideration.

Capsule trajectory prediction is good enough that you don't need to land on water when you have a Nevada dry lake bed available. The recent SpaceX Dragon Capsule flight had a touchdown within (I believe) about 1 mile of target.

Transporting a big heavy capsule overland to the launch site again is a bit tricky, anything more than 3-4m diameter starts to be a problem on roads (Orion is 5m diameter). But you could also use heavy lift helicopters - at 8 tonnes it could be carried by a Chinook to an airport without too much trouble.

For a parachute landing you can hit water pretty fast without damaging the capsule - whereas for a hitting dirt you need landing gear to prevent point loading and a clever terminal speed arresting system to kill your parachute sink rate of a few m/s just as you touch the ground.

The sea is far more accessible for Cape Canaveral. Ultimately a relatively small boat and crane with a small crew could recover the capsule and return it to Canaveral for reprocessing. (Though that would not be the SpaceX rather than the Nasa way of doing things).

Gyres (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 2 years ago | (#41492063)

I hope they also simulated landing in patch of plastic trash too. This is the Pacific we're talking about.

Ok, this is going to sound stupid... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41492817)

...but wasn't Orion canceled? Isn't that why we're sending Dragon to the space station?

"I'm getting better!"

"No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment."

Oh come on. (1)

goodmanj (234846) | about 2 years ago | (#41493563)

Big manned space news of the week: NASA dropped an empty metal can into a pool of water.

I guess this is progress. But over the last few years SpaceX went from zero to human-capable (if not human-rated) spacecraft with just a couple press releases along the way. That's because their payroll is full of engineers, not public relations officials.

Re:Oh come on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41496179)

SpaceX... their payroll is full of engineers, not public relations officials

I see you haven't met Teancum or Windbourne.

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