Navy Practices Recovering Orion Capsule

With the U.S. Navy’s well deck ship USS Arlington stationed against its pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, divers in small boats approached a test version of NASA’s Orion crew module.  As part of a deliberative process, the divers attached tow lines and led the capsule to a flooded well deck. With the capsule in position over the recovery cradle, the water drained until the capsule settled.

During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base, divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck. Image Credit: NASA/Dave Bowman
During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base, divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck. (Credit: NASA/Dave Bowman)

“Today marks a significant milestone in the Navy’s partnership with NASA and the Orion Human Space Flight Program,” said Navy Commander Brett Moyes, Future Plans Branch chief, U.S. Fleet. “The Navy is excited to support NASA’s continuing mission of space exploration. Our unique capabilities make us an ideal partner for NASA in the recovery of astronauts in the 21st century — just as we did nearly a half century ago in support of America’s quest to put a man on the moon.”

The stationary recovery test was two years in the making.  NASA met in working groups with the Navy to leverage their well deck recovery expertise to develop recovery procedures for the Orion crew module. Together, NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) carefully choreographed each step of the test.

With the Orion test capsule in position over the recovery cradle, the water drained until the capsule settled.
With the Orion test capsule in position over the recovery cradle, the water drained until the capsule settled. (Credit: NASA/Dave Bowman)

“It was nice to see how the ballet of it all performed,” said Lou Garcia, NASA Recovery Director.

In the sheltered waters next to a pier, the controlled environment test revealed how precise the positioning of the capsule can be over the cradle used to move the crew module, how long the recovery operation takes and how the taglines, winch lines and tow lines work.

“This allows us to practice our procedures in a benign environment with no ship movement and minimum wave action,” said Jim Hamblin, landing and recovery element operations manager, Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program.

Navy divers prepared for the recovery test in Norfolk by training in the 6.2 million gallon pool at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston.

Scott Wilson, manager, Offline Processing and Infrastructure for Development,  GSDO Program, referred to testing strategy as a “crawl, walk, run.”

With the well deck drained, the Orion capsule is recovered aboard the USS Arlington and the stationary recovery test is complete. (Credit: NASA/Dave Bowman)
With the well deck drained, the Orion capsule is recovered aboard the USS Arlington and the stationary recovery test is complete. (Credit:
NASA/Dave Bowman)

“With this test, we are taking the first steps in learning to walk,” Wilson said.

The hardware used in the stationary test will be sent to the West Coast to prepare for a future test of Orion recovery operations in open water planned for January 2014. NASA and the DoD will use the recovery procedures employed in Norfolk to evaluate methods for next year’s recovery operations test.

Lessons learned from the test in Norfolk and January’s underway recovery test will be applied to the recovery of the Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 in September 2014.

EFT-1 will be Orion’s first mission, which will send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth’s orbit. As part of the test flight, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The flight test will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars.

EFT-1 will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and splash down off the Baja Coast on the same day. For EFT-1, the recovery ship and team will be in the splashdown zone at the time of launch.

“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.

For more information about the Orion Program, visit:

For more information about the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, visit:

Denise Lineberry
NASA Langley Research Center

  • Charles Lurio

    This training will really come in handy for keeping skills honed for for the “operational” flight rate of once every four or five years.

  • Hug Doug

    after 2021, wikipedia lists a flight rate of 1 per year.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Hmmm, clip a rope on to it and pull it into the back of a large ship berthed in a mill-pond. “Training”?, “skills”?….or pointless exercise and waste of time and money. Still since the sole purpose of Orion and SLS is to spend (i.e. waste) as much money as possible for no good reason, then perhaps this was a successful exercise after all.

  • Brainard

    Do you ever give up?

    I want a job in your shill shop!

  • Hug Doug

    *blinks* why would i give up what? this information is on wkipedia.

  • Brainard

    Give up trying to push your delusions on an educated blog readership, wikipedia references or not. Look at the bottom of the wikipedia reference page and see where they got that information. Read the talk pages. Comment if you like.

    But regurgitation of falsehoods generally doesn’t work with educated and informed enthusiasts within any domain, especially since they come without genuine citations.

  • Andy

    It seems especially wasteful since Joe Biden volunteered to pull Orion into port behind his jet ski, Pro Bono.

  • Hug Doug

    i’m not sure how it can be a delusion if it’s publicly available information. it might be wishful thinking, if congress doesn’t give appropriate funding to NASA for them to do launches at that rate. but this doesn’t mean it’s delusional. a great deal depends on what, exactly, congress mandates NASA do.

  • Brainard

    I’m sure others here are just as amused as I am that you think that congress can mandate both physics and the printing money they don’t have and can’t back up with assets.

    Again, Wikipedia is not a reference. It cites references. Cite anyone who has publicly stated in print that SLS launch rate with be 1 per year after 2021 and give us a reference. Have it on my desk by morning. Then you’ll be quizzed on it as well. Thanks.


  • Hug Doug

    i never said anything about congress mandating physics. they certainly can print more money, of course.

    hey, if it’s wishful thinking, it’s wishful thinking, but that information is out there online. i’m just making sure that others are aware of the possibilities.

  • Brainard

    Oh, I’m sure all of the Doug huggers and the SLS and Orion huggers are just thrilled with your highly original revelations.

    History remembers this stuff, Doug. It will not end well.

  • Hug Doug

    it’s your opinion.

  • Brainard

    Of course it is, Doug, that’s how science works. Scientists have opinions, they publish them, and wikipedia reports them.

    You should try it some time.

  • Hug Doug

    i do, and you then proceed to comment with useless tripe.

  • Robert Gishubl

    Even if it does fly once per year (unlikely) what will it actually achieve? An annual round trip of the moon wow that will be full of excitement and scientific value. SLS and Orion may be technically advanced but financially they are a disaster as stated by Augustine.
    To be usefull they need to be affordable which they are not.

  • Hug Doug

    well, that is one of the hard questions that a lot of people are asking. i think it would be worth it if they could set up a research outpost on the Moon.

  • Brainard

    Cool, let’s see what you have actually written, outside of blog comments. That would be enlightening, I’m sure.

  • Brainard

    It’s not going to fly once a year. Doug is deeply delusional.

  • Robert Gishubl

    You will not establish a moon base with a flight once per year, you may repeat apollo style missions but what is the point when there are more affordable alternatives. For the cost of developing SLS/Orion you could get 20 Falcon Heavy launches per year and that is before the first stage is re-usable. I will admit 20 Launches without a payload are pointless (Just like SLS) but if you reduce it to 5-10 Launches per year you have enough 250-500 tons to LEO per year or 65-130 tons at Mars which is enough to establish a permanent moon base or something on Mars and still leave money left over to fund the payloads. SLS/Orion is wasting this money that could be used for real scientific value and exploration. That is why I do not like SLS/Orion, not because it is not a capable rocket but because it costs way too much compared to similar alternatives.

  • Hug Doug

    do you like poetry?

  • Hug Doug

    the point would be to NOT repeat Apollo style missions. NASA has been quietly working on things like the ATHLETE and SEV, both of which are basically built to do long-term lunar exploration. i think they would be able to whip up a multi-use lunar base, perhaps with ISS-style cooperation, within a few years.

    all depends on what congress mandates. what NASA is given funding for. it’s kind of sad that they don’t get the support they deserve.

    remember, even a year and a half ago SpaceX wasn’t a factor in the space launch industry. the Falcon Heavy hasn’t even flown yet. SpaceX were the only people working on reusability and it seemed like a bit of a wishful dream 2 years ago.

    comparing Falcon Heavy with the SLS ignores the SLS design history. context is important. again, NASA can only work with what Congress tells it to do.

    and by the way, where are you getting your numbers from? i’ve heard that Falcon Heavy can only lift 1 ton of payload to Mars, not 65-130 tons.

  • Robert Gishubl

    SpaceX website 13 tons to Mars by 5-10 launches per year. Falcon Heavy is effectively 3 Falcon 9 strapped together so it has flown part of its configuration so is a lot closer to flying than SLS.
    History shows if you do not adapt to changing situations you wither and die. Government space is not adapting to a new way of business so it is withering. It is did try with COTS but old space saw it as a threat and is doing everything possible to prevent Commercial Crew via Congressional lobby power. However with the way SpaceX is going it will soon dominate commercial launch its limit will be how fast it can grow while maintaining its technical inovation.

  • Hug Doug

    still, 5-10 launches per year just to get 13 tons of payload to Mars… if SpaceX develops a Hydrogen / LOX 2nd stage it would be a lot more practical.

    SpaceX has, essentially, a single purpose. Launch Stuff Into Space. NASA has a lot more on its plate. it’s one of the things that limit it in ways SpaceX isn’t limited.

    if congress mandated that NASA develop a reusable launch vehicle (without any other addendums, like it must use old Shuttle hardware) they would probably be able to do what SpaceX is doing. NASA is limited.

    NASA is actually doing very well with COTS / Commercial Crew. they have let the companies do their own thing without getting involved in their internal affairs. i think viewing it as “new space” vs. “old space” isn’t really accurate. after all, how long has Orbital been in the game?

  • Brainard

    Sure, NASA is busy avoiding doing the really hard and important things, like funding a critical asteroid detection and tracking mission, and killing bunch of useless non mission critical and non planetary security programs like Orion, SLS and Webb, in that order, so that they can proceed with the absolutely vital and required propulsion advance and reusability implementation for modern launch vehicles, And then we have Charlie saying it’s not his job to save the planet. Ok, Charlie, since you won’t and can’t do it, others will. Hopefully a new NASA administrator, but if not, somebody else, since he has declined to do so as forcefully as anybody can.

  • Hug Doug

    hey, Brainard, i think i found a picture of you online:

  • Brainard

    Awesome comeback, Doug. Keep up the good work!

  • Robert Gishubl

    The Hug Doug response is comensurate with his ability to hold a debate based on facts and reason.

  • Hug Doug

    i tend to respond in kind 😉