NASA's Orion crew module test version completed a major milestone last week when project managers successfully performed a stationary recovery exercise designed to ensure a safe method of retrieving the spacecraft upon re-entry.
Done in partnership with the US Navy, the event represented the culmination of two years of careful choreography put together by NASA and the Department of Defense.
"It was nice to see how the ballet of it all performed," NASA Recovery Director Lou Garcia said in a press release.
The process included the well deck ship USS Arlington, which was stationed against its pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Divers who had trained for the event in NASA's 6.2 million gallon pool in Houston attached tow lines and led the capsule to a flooded well deck. Once the test spacecraft was in position over the recovery cradle, the water drained until the the capsule settled.
Using this controlled environment amongst the sheltered pier waters, the test revealed a number of important points, including just how long the process takes as well as how different elements worked alongside one another.
According to Scott Wilson, the manager of production and operations for the Orion program and offline processing and infrastructure development, the testing strategy is one of "crawl, walk, run."
"With this test, we are taking the first steps in learning to walk," he said.
Going forward, the hardware used in the latest test will be sent to West Coast in order to prepare for open-water testing in early 2014. Furthermore, the results of the latest test will be used in the Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 planned for September of next year.
EFT-1 will mark Orion's first mission and will include sending an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth's orbit, returning to Earth at 20,000 mph at which point it will land in the Pacific Ocean.
"The recovery of the EFT-1 unmanned Orion capsule will become another building block towards the recovery of Orion capsules with our nation's astronauts aboard," Garcia said.
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