Space

Navy practices Orion crew module recovery

Navy practices Orion crew modu...
US Navy divers attach tow lines to a dummy Orion capsule
US Navy divers attach tow lines to a dummy Orion capsule
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Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kelvin Dooley inspects Orion dummy capsule in recovery well of USS San Diego
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Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kelvin Dooley inspects Orion dummy capsule in recovery well of USS San Diego
Orion dummy capsule being towed into the recovery well of USS San Diego
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Orion dummy capsule being towed into the recovery well of USS San Diego
NASA personnel work with sailors to recover Orion dummy capsule
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NASA personnel work with sailors to recover Orion dummy capsule
Orion dummy capsule secured inside USS San Diego
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Orion dummy capsule secured inside USS San Diego
Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Golden dives into water during recovery operations
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Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Golden dives into water during recovery operations
Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Golden aboard the Orion dummy capsule awaiting tow
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Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Golden aboard the Orion dummy capsule awaiting tow
Chief Petty Officer Mike Swist throwing tow rope to recovery crew
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Chief Petty Officer Mike Swist throwing tow rope to recovery crew
US Navy divers attache tow harness to the Orion dummy capsule
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US Navy divers attache tow harness to the Orion dummy capsule
Chief Petty Officer Mike Swist coordinates recovery of Orion dummy capsule
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Chief Petty Officer Mike Swist coordinates recovery of Orion dummy capsule
The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22) prepares to launch Orion dummy capsule
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The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22) prepares to launch Orion dummy capsule
US Navy divers attach tow lines to a dummy Orion capsule
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US Navy divers attach tow lines to a dummy Orion capsule
The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22) 
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The amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22) 
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Mead attaching a tow line
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Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Mead attaching a tow line
The Orion dummy capsule with USS San Diego in the background
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The Orion dummy capsule with USS San Diego in the background
US Navy demolition and salvage crews prepare for recovery operations of Orion dummy 
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US Navy demolition and salvage crews prepare for recovery operations of Orion dummy 
US Navy divers and other personnel in a rigid hull Zodiac boat have attached tether lines to a test version of the Orion crew module during Underway Recovery Test 5
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US Navy divers and other personnel in a rigid hull Zodiac boat have attached tether lines to a test version of the Orion crew module during Underway Recovery Test 5
USS San Diego towing Orion dummy capsule
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USS San Diego towing Orion dummy capsule

When the next Orion spacecraft splashes down, the mission will be far from over. The US Navy will need to spring into action to safely recover the crew capsule and to practice for the day, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS San Diego completed a successful rehearsal in the Pacific Ocean of splashdown recovery operations of the crew module.

Held in conjunction with NASA, the Underway Recovery Test-5 is the latest in a series of tests in anticipation of the unmanned Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), in 2018. USS San Diego's task was to launch a dummy Orion capsule from its sea-level recovery well deck. Specialist diver and demolition teams were then dispatched as the ship stood off to practice approaching the capsule as it had just splashed down.

Though the capsule wasn't fueled, the recovery teams still treated it as if it could be leaking potentially toxic or explosive propellants. A towing harness was installed around the capsule while San Diego maneuvered alongside until the towline could be attached to a NASA-designed winch to pull it back into the well deck.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kelvin Dooley inspects Orion dummy capsule in recovery well of USS San Diego
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kelvin Dooley inspects Orion dummy capsule in recovery well of USS San Diego

The United States hasn't conducted a splashdown and recovery of a manned space mission since the Apollo Soyuz flight in 1975. Not only are there many old skills that need to be relearned after over 40 years, but advances in technology and naval salvage techniques need to be considered and adapted. The Navy says the purpose of the current round of tests is to demonstrate and evaluate the recovery processes, procedures, hardware and personnel under sea conditions. Future tests will not only help in the recovery of EM-1, but also of manned missions slated to begin in 2021.

The San Antonio-class ships are particularly important for these operations because they have advanced recovery equipment and can launch multiple small boats at a moment's notice, as well as having extensive medical facilities aboard to tend to returning astronauts.

The next tests will use the NASA recovery ship, USS Anchorage.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Mead attaching a tow line
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Mead attaching a tow line

"This was a proof-of-concept URT, which means we were testing hypotheses that we had developed over the last year, along with some prototype hardware," says NASA's Landing and Recovery Director, Melissa Jones. "I'm happy to say that it was very successful and we have a lot of data going forward to figure out what our next test will be."

Source: US Navy

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