The Orion boilerplate test vehicle floated in the Pacific Ocean, near the USS Anchorage on Sept. 17, during the third day of Underway Recovery Test 3. U.S. Navy divers in a Zodiac boat, at left, and other team members in a rigid hull inflatable boat prepared the test vehicle for return to the ship.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
NASA, Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy successfully completed the third round of tests to practice recovering Orion when it splashes down off the coast of San Diego at the end of its December flight test. The mid-September test series, led by NASA's Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program, continued to perfect techniques and ensure the full team and all equipment are ready when Orion returns to Earth after traveling more than 3,600 miles in altitude away from the planet.
Two Navy ships, a test version of Orion, several support boats, two helicopters and associated hardware and equipment were used for the tests.
The teams practiced two methods for recovering Orion. The first test began Sept. 11 at Naval Base San Diego, with loading of the test vehicle, equipment and hardware aboard the USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), a safeguard-class rescue and salvage ship. Also on board were Navy radiomen and a civilian crew. The ship headed out to sea Sept. 12 to test a backup recovery method using the ship's stationary crane.
"The test was a success thanks to the expertise of the Salvor crew, Navy divers and the Department of Defense," said Marcos Pena, GSDO Technical Integration lead for crane recovery. "Recovery of the Orion crew module is essential to the success of Orion's flight test and subsequent Orion and Space Launch System missions in the years to come."
Starting in calm seas, the team used a 40-ton aft boom crane attached to the Navy ship to retrieve the 20,000 pound Orion test vehicle from the water. They continued recovery efforts in more challenging waters to determine recommended weather and sea condition limits for crane recovery.
During this test, Navy divers practiced attaching a “horse collar” around Orion and four tending lines that helped control lateral and longitudinal motion during crane recovery. The team also evaluated a basket lift rigging, consisting of 10 slings that were placed around Orion during crane lift operations.
"The basket lift rigging was tested previously on the USS Anchorage," said Pena. "We were able to take the next step and demonstrate that the basket lift rig and horse collar can be used to lift the test vehicle over the side of the ship and set it on a cradle on the ship's deck, all while maintaining motion control."
Tether lines from the ship were attached to Orion for towing tests at various speeds and can be used to bring the capsule to calmer waters for recovery.
On Sept. 15, the USNS Salvor rendezvoused with the USS Anchorage in the open sea and handed off the Orion test vehicle for the next portion of the recovery test.
During the week, the team performed an end-to-end recovery simulation using the ship's well deck, two of the Navy's Zodiac boats, four rigid hull inflatable boats, two helicopters and equipment and procedures that were used during August testing.
U.S. Navy divers in Zodiac boats and other team members in rigid hull inflatable boats were stationed in the water near the test vehicle. Orange stabilizers on the top of the test vehicle were inflated to simulate the system that will be used to upright Orion in the water after splashdown.
Using tether lines attached to the test vehicle, the team guided Orion back to the ship. In the well deck, NASA and Lockheed Martin workers set up a capture net, crew module recovery cradle, wing well fenders, speed bumps, and used a recovery winch, horse collar and Kevlar tending lines to stabilize Orion in the well deck.
During the week, they also practiced retrieving a mock-up of Orion's forward bay cover, a shell that fits over Orion’s crew module to protect the spacecraft during launch, orbital flight and reentry.
“Successful completion of this test series marks a significant milestone in NASA's partnership with the Navy to recover the Orion crew module after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean in December,” said Jeremy Graeber, GSDO NASA Recovery director. "The integrated team has done an amazing job working to refine the procedures to make this mission a success. I feel confident that our team and hardware are ready to support Exploration Flight Test-1.”
Other goals of the test were to assess on-ship communications and ship-to-shore communications, as well as recording timing data for recovery activities to help provide future recovery methods for crewed missions.
The USS Anchorage returned to Naval Base San Diego on Sept. 19. The Orion test vehicle and recovery equipment were offloaded from the ship.
The Orion boilerplate test vehicle was lifted by stationary crane off the side of the USNS Salvor, a safeguard-class rescue and salvage ship, during Underway Recovery Test 4A in the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 14.
Delta IV Booster Integration Another Step Toward First Orion Flight
A United Launch Alliance technician monitors progress as core booster elements of a Delta IV Heavy rocket are being integrated in preparation for Exploration Flight Test-1.
Engineers took another step forward in preparations for the first test flight of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft, in December. The three primary core elements of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket recently were integrated, forming the first stage of the launch vehicle that will send Orion far from Earth to allow NASA to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance in space.
The three Delta IV Common Booster Cores were attached in ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The HIF building is located at Space Launch Complex 37 where the mission will lift off.
The first booster was attached to the center rocket in June with the second one was attached in early August.
"The day-to-day processing is performed by ULA," said Merri Anne Stowe of NASA's Fleet Systems Integration Branch of the Launch Services Program (LSP). "NASA’s role is to keep a watchful eye on everything and be there to help if any issues come up."
Stowe explained that during major testing experts from NASA’s Launch Services Program monitor the work on consoles in Hanger AE at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Hangar AE is home to the Kennedy Space Center’s upgraded Launch Vehicle Data Center. The facility allows engineers to monitor voice, data, telemetry and video systems that support expendable launch vehicle missions. NASA’s Florida spaceport is also where Orion was built and is being processed.
The Delta IV rocket stages were assembled at the ULA plant in Decatur, Alabama, about 20 miles west of Huntsville. After completion, the rocket components were shipped down the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway, a canal, to the Gulf of Mexico. From there they traveled to Cape Canaveral, arriving on May 6. The elements of the rocket's first stage were then transported to the HIF for preflight processing.
"After the three core stages went through their initial inspections and processing, the struts were attached, connecting the booster stages with the center core," Stowe said. "All of this takes place horizontally."
The three common booster cores are 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. Each has an RS-68 engine that uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. All totaled, the three Delta IV boosters collectively generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.
The second stage of the Delta IV rocket is 45 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. It uses one RL10-B-2 engine, also burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant creating 25,000 pounds of thrust.
"The second stage was taken to the Delta Operations Center for processing after it arrived," said Stowe. "The second stage was moved to the HIF on Aug. 29 and is scheduled to be horizontally mated to the first stage on Sept. 12."
The same upper stage will be used on the block 1 version of NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). More powerful than any rocket ever built, SLS will be capable of sending humans aboard Orion to deep-space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars.
"The hardware for Exploration Flight Test-1 is coming together well," Stowe said. "We haven't had to deal with any serious problems. All of the advance planning appears to be paying off."
Once all the launch vehicle stages are mated and thoroughly checked out, the next step is the Test Readiness Review.
"These meetings are held to bring together all the interested parties to be sure the Delta IV rocket is ready for the move to the launch pad where the Orion spacecraft will be mated," Stowe said.
The upcoming flight test will use the Delta IV Heavy to launch the Orion and send it 3,600 miles in altitude beyond the Earth's surface. During the two-orbit, four-hour mission, engineers will evaluate the systems critical to crew safety, the launch abort system, the heat shield and the parachute system. The data gathered during the mission will influence design decisions and validate existing computer models. The flight also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for later Orion flights.
The capsule will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph, generating temperatures as high as 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
The Lockheed Martin-built Orion is designed to take humans farther than ever before. The spacecraft will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry astronauts to space and provide safe re-entry from deep-space missions. Orion currently is undergoing final assembly in Kennedy's Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.
Stowe is especially invested in a successful outcome for the flight test.
A transporter for oversize loads delivers the port, or left, booster for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy for Exploration Flight Test-1 into the Horizontal Integration Facility, or HIF, on May 7. The port booster joins the other two boosters of the Delta IV Heavy already in the HIF.
In the Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, two core elements of a Delta IV Heavy rocket are brought together in preparation for Exploration Flight Test-1.