NASA Recovery Team Completes Orion Underway Recovery Test 6 in Pacific Ocean

A test version of the Orion capsule is pulled into the well deck of the USS Anchorage during Underway Recovery Test 6.
During Underway Recovery Test 6, Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team spent a week aboard the USS Anchorage where they and the U.S. Navy tested procedures and ground support equipment to improve recovery procedures and hardware ahead of Orion’s next flight, Exploration Mission-1, when it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The Orion test article sits inside the well deck of the USS Anchorage after a successful recovery test Jan. 22. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA’s Recovery Team from Kennedy Space Center just finished a week at sea, testing and improving their processes and ground support hardware to recover astronauts in the Orion capsule once they splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Aboard the USS Anchorage, NASA and the U.S. Navy worked together to run through different sea conditions, time of day and equipment scenarios—putting hardware and the people through their paces.

Astronaut Stephen Bowen was aboard as an observer to better understand the recovery procedures and to offer an astronaut’s perspective. As a former Navy captain, Bowen has a wealth of knowledge to impart to the team—helping them better understand what the crew will be going through as they are bobbing up and down in the capsule after spending time in microgravity.

“I understand what it’s like to be on a boat that doesn’t have a keel (a structural beam that runs in the middle from bow to stern to give it stability) in the open ocean,” Bowen said. “It’s not necessarily the friendliest of places to be.” And add that to the physical manifestations of re-entering a gravity environment after several weeks, Bowen’s first-hand knowledge will be paramount for the team as they hone their plans to make recovery smooth.

During the weeklong testing, the team made strides in developing the final recovery plan and even shaved 15 minutes off their best time. “When the astronauts return to Earth, we are required to retrieve them within two hours,” said NASA Recovery Director Melissa Jones, “but our goal is to get to them as quickly and safely as possible—we are shooting for half that time.”

The team still has several tests scheduled between now and Orion’s first uncrewed flight atop the new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1. The mission will pave the way for future crewed missions and enable future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. During the flight, Orion will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon before splashing down into the Pacific, where NASA’s Recovery Team will be ready and waiting for her.

Orion Spacecraft Recovery Rehearsal Underway

As part of Underway Recovery Test 6, the Orion test article is pulled in by a winch line at the rear of the USS Anchorage’s well deck that brings the capsule into the ship, along with four manned LLAMAs (Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly) that control the capsule’s side-to-side movement and a tending line attached to a rigid hull inflatable boat for controlling Orion’s movement behind the ship. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA’s new deep space exploration systems will send crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return them safely home. After traveling through space at 25,000 miles per hour, the Orion spacecraft will slow to 300 mph after it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then slows down to 20 mph before it safely splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

When astronauts come back from deep space, they will need to be picked up as quickly as possible. That’s where Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team comes in.

Under the auspices of Exploration Ground Systems, Melissa Jones, NASA’s recovery director, and her team will recover the Orion capsule and crew. NASA and the U.S. Navy are working together to ensure they are ready before the first uncrewed Orion mission aboard the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1.

This week, the integrated NASA and U.S. Navy team are aboard the USS Anchorage, testing out new ground support equipment and practicing their procedures.

After Orion completes its mission out past the Moon and heads to Earth, Jones will get the call Orion is coming home. Then, it is her job to get the joint NASA and U.S. Navy team to the capsule’s location quickly and bring it and the astronauts safely aboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship.

“We are testing all of our equipment in the actual environment we will be in when recovering Orion after Exploration Mission-1,” Jones said. “Everything we are doing today is ensuring a safe and swift recovery when the time comes for missions with crew.”