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.
When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.
The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.
For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.
The Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical (CSFSU) recently was installed on the tower of the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to prepare for the first launch of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft atop.
The mobile launcher tower will be equipped with a number of lines, called umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS and Orion spacecraft and provide commodities during processing and preparation for launch of Exploration Mission-1.
Cranes and rigging were used to lift the CSFSU and install it at about the 220-foot-level on the tower. The CSFSU will swing into position to provide connections to the core stage forward skirt of the SLS rocket, and then swing away before launch. Its main purpose is to provide conditioned air and gaseous nitrogen to the SLS core stage forward skirt cavity.
What is a LLAMA? It’s a Line Load Attenuation Mechanism Assembly, designed by Jeremy Parr, a mechanical design engineer in the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He designed the LLAMA to help U.S. Navy line handlers retrieve the Orion crew module after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
Parr is the lead design engineer for Orion Landing and Recovery, which is coordinated and led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Parr’s design recently earned him second place in the agency’s third Innovation Awards competition.
“The LLAMA concept came to me after watching the sailors fighting to control the Orion test capsule during Underway Recovery Test 1 in open water in February 2014,” Parr said.
The standard Navy line tending practice is to wrap their lines around the ship’s T-bits, or large solid columns with a crossbar that resemble the letter “t,” located near the stern, so that the sailors can control big loads with only a few people. This works for most operations they do since the hardware they handle is usually big and slower moving in the seas. But the crew module is a different beast when floating in the water than anyone on the recovery team expected, Parr said. Orion is easily pushed around by wind and waves.
“I came up with a design that helps the Navy line handlers to safely maintain high tension in the tending lines during recovery of Orion into the well deck of a ship. It also regulates the amount of tension in the lines to ensure equal loading on the vehicle.”
The LLAMAs are mounted on the ship’s T-bits, and the mechanisms provide all tending line control of the crew module once it enters the well deck and until it is secured on the recovery cradle pads.
“I am both excited and honored to be recognized for the LLAMA design,” Parr said. “This has been a team effort for a few years now to get where we are today. We worked through development and testing until we completed our successful test during Underway Recovery Test 5 off the coast of San Diego in the fall of 2016.”
The LLAMA-controlled tending lines are the baseline method for recovery of Orion after Exploration Mission-1 and all future missions.
Parr began working at Kennedy in 2007. Prior to that, he worked for SAIC at Johnson Space Center in Houston for four years.
Work continues to prepare NASA’s Orion crew module for its first integrated flight atop the Space Launch System rocket. The crew module was moved from a clean room to a work station inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for the next additions to the spacecraft.
In the clean room, engineers and technicians completed the welding of the tanks to the propulsion and environmental control/life support systems (ECLSS) tubing. They also completed welding to install the propellant, pressurant and post-landing coolant tanks. The pressurant is used to maintain the flow of propellant and coolant in the propulsion and ECLSS systems, respectively.
Now secured in a work station, Orion will undergo additional processing to prepare it for launch in 2019. The crew module up-righting system, comprised of five up-righting bag assemblies, each with an inflation gas assembly, will be installed in the crew module’s forward bay. The up-righting bags are inflated after the crew module splashes down in the ocean and will turn the spacecraft upright if external forces cause it to roll over. The three main parachute assemblies also will be installed in the forward bay.
Orion’s crew module will be populated with avionics components, including control systems and communication and data units. Flight wire harnesses, which distribute power and data among the spacecraft’s systems, will be routed throughout the crew module’s forward bay, crew cabin and aft- and mid-bays.
The first flight of SLS and Orion will send the spacecraft beyond the moon before Orion returns to Earth and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. The mission will demonstrate the integrated performance of the SLS rocket, Orion and ground support teams before a flight with crew in the early 2020s.
The Orion crew module that traveled into space beyond low-Earth orbit on Exploration Fight Test 1 (EFT-1) completed a different kind of trip this week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Secured on a custom-made ground support equipment transporter, Orion was moved from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, less than three miles down the road. The crew module will become part of the NASA Now exhibit inside the IMAX Theater at the visitor complex.
The Orion spacecraft launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket Dec. 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft built for humans traveled 3,604 miles above Earth, and is the first U.S. spacecraft to go beyond low-Earth orbit in 42 years. The Orion crew module splashed down approximately 4.5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the shore of California.
The Orion crew module was moved from a work station to the proof pressure cell in the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 26 to prepare for testing.
Engineers and technicians with NASA and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, will prepare the crew module for a series of proof pressure and leak tests to confirm the welded joints of the propulsion and Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) tubing are solid and capable of withstanding launch, re-entry and landing.
The Orion propulsion system includes the propellant and thrusters which support deorbit and re-entry of the spacecraft while the ECLSS provides cooling for interior and exterior components on the crew module throughout the mission.
Technicians will attach ground support equipment to the propulsion and ECLSS tubing, and use helium to pressurize the tubing to its proof pressure and to higher pressures at which the weld joints will be checked for leakage.
For its uncrewed flight test, Orion will be outfitted with most of the systems needed for a crewed mission during its first flight atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy.
Processing activity at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has ramped up in preparation for the agency’s launch of the Orion spacecraft atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on its first deep space mission, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).
The Orion crew module adapter (CMA) for EM-1 was lifted for the first and only time, Nov. 11, during its processing flow inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building high bay at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Technicians with Lockheed Martin, the Orion crew module manufacturer, lowered the adapter onto a test stand for secondary structure outfitting. The CMA will be moved into a temporary clean room at the end of the month for propellant and environmental control and life support system tube installation and welding.
The adapter will connect the Orion crew module to the European Space Agency-provided service module. The Orion spacecraft will launch on the SLS rocket on EM-1 scheduled for late 2018.
In the meantime, the Orion crew module structural test article (STA), pictured above right, arrived in its shipping container at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility aboard the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft Nov. 15 from the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The test article was transported to Stennis from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
The container was offloaded and transported to the O&C on Nov. 16 where it was uncrated. Technicians removed the test module’s protective covering. Then it was lifted by crane and moved to a test tool called a birdcage where it was secured for further testing. The test article will undergo mechanical assembly for the next several months before being transported to Lockheed Martin in Denver for additional testing.
A group of U.S. Navy divers, Air Force pararescuemen and Coast Guard rescue swimmers are practicing Orion underway recovery techniques this week in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to prepare for the first test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft with the agency’s Space Launch System rocket during Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1).
Training in the NBL began Sept. 20 and will wrap up by Sept. 22.
A test version of the Orion spacecraft was lowered into the water in the NBL. Divers wearing scuba gear used ground support equipment and zodiac boats to swim or steer to the test spacecraft. They placed a flotation collar around Orion and practiced using the new tow cleat modifications that will allow the tether lines to be connected to the capsule. The tether lines are being used to simulate towing Orion into the well deck of a Navy recovery ship.
Training at the NBL will help the team prepare for Underway Recovery Test 5 (URT-5), which will be the first major integrated test in a series of tests to prepare the recovery team, hardware and operations to support EM-1 recovery.
The recovery team, engineers with NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations program and Orion manufacturer Lockheed Martin, are preparing for URT-5, which will take place in San Diego and aboard the USS San Diego in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California in October.
During EM-1, Orion will travel about 40,000 miles beyond the moon and return to Earth after a three-week mission to test the spacecraft’s systems and heat shield. Orion will travel through the radiation of the Van Allen Belts, descend through Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The heat shield that will protect the Orion crew module during re-entry after the spacecraft’s first uncrewed flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2018 arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 25. The heat shield arrived aboard NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility, was offloaded and transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building high bay today.
The heat shield was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the company’s facility near Denver. Orion’s heat shield will help it endure the approximately 5,000 degrees F it will experience upon reentry. The heat shield measures 16.5 feet in diameter.
Orion is the spacecraft that will carry astronauts to deep-space destinations, including the journey to Mars. Orion will be equipped with power, communications and life support systems to sustain space travelers during their journey, and return them safely back to Earth.