NASA’s Ikhana Ready for Orion Return

SONY DSCAn Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California is flying over the Pacific Ocean near Orion’s landing zone to record the spacecraft as it returns from orbit. The aircraft is equipped with infrared and other cameras to see Orion as it comes through the atmosphere and opens its parachutes.

Peak Altitude: 3,604.2 Miles

T+3 hours, 6 minutes – After reaching 3,604.2 statute miles above Earth, Orion is now heading back home at 20,000 mph. That speed is high enough to test the heat shield against temperatures approaching those Orion will see as it brings astronauts home from lunar orbit. Orion will encounter 8.2 Gs of force during re-entry, more than eight times the force of gravity.

The spacecraft’s reaction control system thrusters have been activated to steer the spacecraft later in the flight.

Flight controllers calculate that Orion will splashdown 1.3 nautical miles east of its prelaunch predicted target location about 600 miles west of Baja California. Two Navy ships, the USS Anchorage and USNS Salvor, are waiting in that area to pull the spacecraft out of the water. NASA and Lockheed Martin teams will work with Navy crews to recover Orion beginning soon after it descends to the ocean under its three parachutes.

Recovery Teams Position for Return

AS Orion crosses 3,000-miles in altitude, the Navy and NASA recovery teams off the coast of California have deployed from the U.S.S. Anchorage and U.S.N.S . Salvor in two 7-meter boats and two 11-meter boats while they wait for the spacecraft to return and splash down in the Pacific.