NASA Formally Christens Water Impact Test Site

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NASA hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Hydro Impact Center Aug. 9 at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., officially christening the new facility more than two weeks after a mock-up version of the next U.S.-owned space capsule splashed down there in a water impact test.

The water impact tests of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the Lockheed Martin-built crew-carrying component of the next U.S.-owned space exploration system, took place July 21 at the Hydro center’s water basin, which holds about 378 million liters.

The Hydro Impact Center is a new addition to an old Langley facility known as The Gantry — a 73-meter-high steel A-frame structure built in 1965 for spacewalk training. The new Hydro Impact facility will be used to certify that future space transportation vehicles are capable of landing safely on water, NASA said.

The space agency had conducted three MPCV splashdown tests at press time. In the tests, the capsule is hoisted into the air by crane, swung out over the basin and dropped into the water at an angle. Similar tests were performed on Apollo-era crew capsules.

MPCV is the space capsule formerly known as Orion. It is to be the companion craft for the Space Launch System, a congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket that NASA has been ordered to make ready for flight by 2016.

NASA has said that even an unmanned MPCV mission is unlikely until 2017. At that time, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, the craft will be sent out for a loop around the Moon. On the return trip, MPCV will build up enough speed for an Earth re-entry and water landing that will reflect the conditions astronauts would be subject to on return from a lunar mission.