US Navy LPD Anchorage underway for NASA Orion mission tests

US Navy’s San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) departed San Diego on January 17 to carry out another Orion recovery test in collaboration with NASA.

The underway recovery test (URT) Anchorage will conduct off the coast of Southern California is part of a US government interagency effort to practice and evaluate recovery processes, procedures, hardware and personnel that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft upon its return to Earth.

This will mark the fourth time Anchorage will conduct a URT mission with NASA.

Throughout the history of the program, a variety of San Antonio-class LPD ships have been used to train and prepare NASA and the Navy, utilizing a Boiler Plate Test Article (BTA). The BTA is a mock capsule, roughly the same size, shape, and center of gravity as NASA’s Orion crew module.

NASA and Navy teams have taken lessons learned from previous recovery tests to improve operations and ensure the ability to safely and successfully recover the Orion capsule when it returns to Earth following Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), slated for December 2019.

EM-1 will be an uncrewed flight, whose successful completion will pave the way for subsequent crewed missions and enable future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

During URT-6, Anchorage’s bridge team will be on watch while the ship conducts restricted operations. Small boats carrying Navy divers and NASA’s recovery team will maneuver alongside the BTA to rig tending lines, guiding the capsule to Anchorage as the ship safely operates on station.

Conducting both daytime and nighttime recovery operations, NASA crew members will work alongside the Navy to manage how the capsule is brought in, set down and safely stored.

NASA plans to conduct three more URT missions before the launch of EM-1.