Thursday, November 22, 2007

Unlinke Apollo, Orion will touchdown on land

Early tests of the Orion landing phase...I just read an interesting article. With the Constellation program re-using so many of the clever Apollo-day concepts, I was under the impression that Orion capsules would splash down into the pacific, too. But I was (probably) wrong.

NASA engineers plan to do Orion touchdowns on land - just like the Russian Soyuz capsules. While it is challenging to do a land touchdown, it has a number of advantages. The Orion capsule is reusable (planned to be usable for up to ten missions). A splashdown in salt water means a lot of corrosion potential and thus a number of problems. It also requires an expensive fleet of recovery ships. So NASA has its preferences. On the picture, you can see testing of airbags that should absorb some of the remaining energy after the descent (though it is not expected to be much, Orion glides down on parachutes).

The landing area is supposed to be in the western Unites States. That comes at no surprise, a lightly populated area is definitely a plus for such an endeavor.

An ocean splashdown, however, is yet not fully ruled out. NASA keeps this option in case it is needed.

If you'd like to dig down into all the details, I recommend this Scientific American Article.

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