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Orion Testing Provides Lessons And Data For Splashdown Recovery Operations
February 21, 2014



The first full joint testing between NASA and the U.S. Navy of Orion recovery procedures off the coast of California was suspended after the team experienced issues with handling lines securing a test version of Orion inside the well deck of the USS San Diego. 

NASA and the Navy were conducting tests to prepare for recovery of Orion after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of its first space flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, in September. The testing was planned to allow teams to demonstrate and evaluate the processes, procedures, hardware and personnel that will be needed for recovery operations.

The lines were unable to support the tension caused by crew module motion that was driven by wave turbulence in the well deck of the ship. The team called off the week's remaining testing to allow engineers to evaluate next steps.

The challenges that arose demonstrate why it is important to subject Orion to tests in the actual environments that the spacecraft will encounter.

"Even though the testing didn't go as we had planned, we're learning lessons that will help us be better prepared to retrieve Orion after it travels more than 3,600 miles into space and comes home," said Bill Hill, assistant deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The Orion testing work we do is helping us work toward sending humans to deep space."

The testing has provided important data that is being used to improve recovery procedures and hardware ahead of Orion’s first flight test this fall. Several of the test objectives were accomplished before the remaining tests were called off, including successful recoveries of the forward bay cover, parachute and demonstrations of the coordination required between the team onboard the ship and mission control in Houston.

Orion is America's new spacecraft that will take astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have an emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space. During Exploration Flight Test-1, an uncrewed spacecraft will travel 15 times farther than the International Space Station before returning to Earth at speeds as fast as 20,000 mph and temperatures above 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to evaluate the spacecraft’s heat shield and other systems.

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Members of the Orion recovery team are in a small boat working to retrieve a test version of Orion's forward bay cover from the Pacific Ocean
Members of the Orion recovery team work to retrieve a test version of Orion's forward bay cover, a protective shell that fits on the crew module, from the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 19.
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A test version of the Orion spacecraft is tethered inside the well deck of the USS San Diego.
A test version of the Orion spacecraft is tethered inside the well deck of the USS San Diego prior to testing between NASA and the U.S. Navy. To safely bring Orion home after splashdown, it will be towed into the flooded well deck and secured in a special cradle before the water is drained.
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Page Last Updated: February 21st, 2014
Page Editor: Jennifer Wiles