Press Release

NASA Opens Water Basin of the Future

By SpaceRef Editor
August 13, 2011
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A ceremonial ribbon cutting held Aug. 9 at NASA Langley Research Center made official the opening of a new testing facility vital to the development and certification of future space exploration vehicles.

The Hydro Impact Basin is located at the center’s historic Gantry, where Neil Armstrong trained to walk on the moon, and is currently being used to validate the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) for water landings.

This is a “bridge to the future,” said Lesa Roe, Langley’s center director. “It’s commemorating the next chapter in our (space exploration) legacy.”

Roe asked the assembly of NASA Langley employees and political officials, to imagine decades ago, when a vehicle containing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – the first men to step on the moon — hung from the Gantry to train for the final 150 feet of their descent to the lunar surface. And, she reminded, Armstrong said of that landing in Apollo 11 “was just like we practiced at Langley.”

It’s what she and those who work at the Gantry and in support of the facility would love to hear in a future in which space exploration ranges far out of low-Earth or even lunar orbit, to a distant asteroid and, eventually, a planet.

More immediately, that future will include six weeks of adjustments to water basin testing procedures at the Gantry, six more tests of the Orion MPCV boilerplate test article this year and then a quiet period while the Orion ground-test article (GTA) is readied at Lockheed Martin in Denver and ferried to Langley.

That could take as long as a year, said Mark Kirasich, deputy manager of the Orion MPCV Project Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The GTA is a step forward from the boilerplate.

“It’s a full-scale, pre-production version of our spacecraft,” Kirasich said. “It’s the highest-fidelity crew module we have to date.”

It’s undergoing testing in Denver that could go into early 2012. Before the Orion MPCV comes to Langley, its heat shield quality is being enhanced to make it closer to that which eventually will go into space.

“Even though we could bring the ground-test article here, it would not be particularly valuable testing until we get the heat shield,” Kirasich said.

The test article would arrive at Langley “in late ’12, early ’13,” he added. The differences in the boilerplate and ground-tests are vast. The boilerplate tests are being conducted with about 192 sensors. The ground-test vehicle will carry about 600 sensors.

The Langley work with the ground test article will go a long way toward getting it ready for an unmanned flight test in late 2013 or ’14, Kirasich said.

The MPCV will actually be human-ready in 2017, he added. What happens after that will evolve in sync with NASA’s development of a new space launch vehicle to take the capsule aloft.

All of that is dependent on the wherewithal to make it happen. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va. 3rd) said Tuesday: “I believe that the completion of this project is only the start of the tremendous potential expansion at NASA Langley.”

“These investments in NASA Langley are investments in our future,” Scott added after the ceremony. “If we don’t make investments now, we’ll pay for it in the future. Technology that is being developed here today will be the technology that we’ll be using 30 years from now.”

For now, at Langley, there’s a new test facility with an eye to that future.

“We’ve come full circle,” said Damodar Ambur, who heads the center’s Ground Test Facilities Directorate. “We were testing to land on the moon (at the Gantry). Now we’re testing landing back on Earth.”

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SpaceRef staff editor.