NASA, U.S. Navy Practice Orion Recovery Procedures

When Orion returns from deep space missions and lands in the ocean, a team will be responsible for safely returning the capsule and crew back to land. That feat will be accomplished by a landing and recovery group that includes NASA and contractor engineers and technicians and U.S. Navy divers, along with a variety of water vessels and ground support equipment.

NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO), the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and contractor employees recently wrapped up in late October a successful rehearsal of Orion recovery, called an Underway Recovery Test, aboard the USS San Diego in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The USS San Diego is an amphibious ship with a landing platform/dock used to pull the Orion spacecraft into the ship, and underway is a US Navy term meaning that the ship is out to sea. This is the fifth such test with Orion, and previous underway recovery tests have helped contribute to the team’s understanding of how to adjust for various water conditions and contingency scenarios.

“Our Orion recovery testing was our first chance to field test new ground support equipment and operational procedures,” said Mike Bolger, GSDO director at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

U.S. Navy divers and other personnel in a small Zodiac boat secure a tether line to an attach point on a test version of the Orion crew module during Underway Recovery Test 5 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. NASA's Ground Systems Development and Operations Program and the U.S. Navy are conducting a series of tests using the USS San Diego's well deck, the test module, various watercraft and equipment to prepare for recovery of Orion on its return from deep space missions. The testing will allow the team to demonstrate and evaluate recovery processes, procedures, hardware and personnel in open waters. Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and NASA's Journey to Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. Orion is scheduled to launch on NASA's Space Launch System in late 2018. For more information, visit


During the recovery test, the team demonstrated and evaluated in open water new recovery processes, procedures, hardware and personnel that will be necessary to recover the Orion crew module into the well deck of a Navy ship based on what was learned during Orion’s flight test in December 2014. New ground support equipment testing included attaching tow lines to five attach points, rather than three, on the crew module.  Also, tow cleat assemblies were modified to include a tow pin insert that allows easier tow line connections in rocky waves.

The recovery team headed out to sea aboard the ship, along with a test version of the Orion crew module and recovery support equipment secured in the ship’s well deck. During a series of tests over several days, the well deck was flooded with water and the test vehicle was allowed to float out to open water to rehearse various segments of recovery procedures, including attaching a collar and various lines on the module and pulling, or guiding it back into the ship…


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