The US Navy has completed the latest in a series of sea trials to work out the bugs of recovering NASA's Orion space capsule after its end-of-mission splashdown. The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) completed Underway Recovery Test-6 (URT-6) on January 23, which involved the launch and recovery by special boat teams and Navy divers of a floating mock-up of the spacecraft under a variety of sea conditions, at night as well as daytime.

The wrap-up of the sixth joint NASA/US Navy trials since 2014 was the fourth sea trail to include the Anchorage. The purpose of the exercise was to work out the details and solve the problems of recovering a manned space capsule at sea – something that hasn't been done by the Navy since the Apollo/Soyuz Test Mission in 1975.

The trials included the launch of the test capsule from the well deck of the ship, after which it was towed into open water and released. The Anchorage would then maneuver alongside the capsule as small boats and divers intercepted the spacecraft and attached an inflatable stabilization ring designed to sustain the capsule at sea for up to three days. Once secured with tow lines to a NASA-designed winch, the test unit was then guided back into Anchorage's well deck.

The Navy says that the purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate and evaluate recovery methods in a real, open-ocean environment as a way of spotting problems and finding improvements to the methods and hardware. Though a description of steps involved seem straightforward, their execution is anything but.

"The whole recovery is a high-risk evolution, especially when the capsule is being towed closely behind the ship, but NASA took our inputs and modified the equipment for this URT mission," says Chief Petty Officer Beau Lontine, a Navy diver assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3. "There are so many things that could go wrong if just one person isn't paying attention. We've conducted training with the hardware and rigging to allow for a safe recovery of the capsule. It might seem like a basic recovery, but it is far from a simple evolution."

The next sea trial, URT-7 is scheduled for October and will be led by the San Antonio-class USS Somerset (LPD 25). NASA will then conduct a validation and verification study of the Orion recovery hardware.

Source: US Navy

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