By Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
For NASA’s new Orion spacecraft, part of getting ready for its first launch is getting ready for its first splashdown.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
After traveling 3,600 miles into space in December on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of 20,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit before landing in the Pacific Ocean. For the team tasked with recovering it, that is where the work begins.
NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin are teaming up with the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense's Human Space Flight Support Detachment 3 to test techniques for recovering Orion from the water during Underway Recovery Test (URT) 2, Aug. 1-4, off the coast of San Diego, California.
URT 2 will pick up where URT 1 left off. During that first underway recovery test in February, dynamic conditions caused activities to conclude before all of the test objectives were met. Since then, the team has been working on concepts that would allow them to safely recover Orion despite such conditions.
"During this test, the team will investigate alternative procedures and recovery methods," said Mike Generale, Orion Recovery Operations manager and Recovery Test director at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "One of the goals of the test is to have a primary and alternate means of recovering the Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 later this year."
The data gathered during Exploration Flight Test-1 will influence design decisions, validate existing computer models and innovative new approaches to space systems development, and reduce overall mission risks and costs for later Orion flights. The recovery of the vehicle is one of the things the flight will test, and the underway recovery tests prepare the combined NASA, Lockheed, and U.S. Navy team for the task.
For URT 2, the Orion test vehicle will be loaded into the well deck of the USS Anchorage (LPD 23), and the team will head out to sea, off the coast of San Diego, in search of sea conditions to support test needs. New support equipment developed for URT 2 will accompany the test vehicle.
New hardware includes an air bag system for the Crew Module Recovery Cradle and a load-distributing collar for placement around the crew module. The Prototype Laboratory at Kennedy designed a new device called the Line Load Attenuation Mechanical Assembly (LLAMA) that limits the tending-line forces for the Navy line handlers as Orion is guided into the ship's well deck.
Tending line snubbers, a kind of commercially available rubber shock absorbers sailors use for tending lines, also will be tested. In case the seas are too rough to secure the crew module in the recovery cradle and a contingency recovery is needed, a set of rubber bumpers were developed to provide a mat on the deck of the recovery ship for use. A lifting sling will be on hand for recovery by crane.
"Each of the new pieces of hardware will be evaluated for its relative merits, and the best solutions will be tested during URT 3 in September to discover the limits of their capabilities and suitability for Orion's Exploration Flight Test-1 in December," Generale said.
All of this testing ensures NASA can retrieve the Orion capsule safely because it helps the team understand how to adjust for various water conditions and contingency scenarios.
For more information about Orion, visit http://www.nasa.gov/orion.