Aug 2, 2023
NASA’s Landing and Recovery team and the Department of Defense successfully completed the first recovery test for the crewed Artemis II mission aboard the amphibious transport dock USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) off the coast of San Diego, Aug. 1.
Underway Recovery Test (URT) 10 was the tenth in a series of tests and the first time NASA and its partners from the Navy and Air Force put their Artemis II recovery operations to the test.
“The U.S. Navy has many unique capabilities that make it an ideal partner to support NASA. Amphibious transport dock ships, such as ours, provide the capability to embark helicopters, launch and recover small boats, monitor three-dimensional air space and provide high-end care through our advanced medical facilities,” said Capt. Doug Langenberg, commanding officer of USS John P. Murtha. “Each organization that participated in this mission underwent extensive training - our ability to work together demonstrates our maritime recovery experience and capabilities.”
Working in support of U.S. Space Command, additional U.S. Navy units included Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit (EODESU) 1, Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1, and Strike Group Oceanography Team San Diego, with support from U.S. Air Force’s First Air Force, Detachment 3, and U.S. Space Force’s 45th Space Launch Delta Weather Squadron.
After last year’s successful recovery of the Orion spacecraft from the Artemis I mission using the amphibious transport dock USS Portland (LPD 27), and with the addition of crew for the Artemis II mission, the recovery teams have begun modifying their timelines and procedures to ensure the astronauts will be safely on the recovery ship less than two hours after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
Once the crew splashes down, a group of Navy divers will approach Orion and ensure it is safe for the astronauts to exit the spacecraft. The divers will then open the spacecraft hatch and help the astronauts exit one by one onto an inflatable “front porch.” This raft wraps around the capsule and allows for the crew to be picked up via helicopter and flown back to the recovery ship. Once the astronauts are on board the recovery ship, teams will secure Orion with a series of lines and slowly tow it back inside the ship, just as they did during the Artemis I mission.
During the test, the team practiced the Artemis II recovery procedures, releasing and recovering the crew module test article, a full-scale mock-up of Orion.
Prior to URT-10, Navy dive teams were trained at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a large pool where astronauts train for spacewalks and engineers refine procedures.
“We are experts in mobile salvage and towing as well as open water, small boat operations,” said
Senior Chief Navy Diver Ryan Crider, a master diver assigned to EODESU-1 who oversaw his unit’s tactical participation. “This mission is an example of how the explosive ordnance disposal community has evolved over time and a glimpse of what EODESU-1 hopes to achieve in the future alongside NASA and Fleet partners.”
Before the underway test, Artemis II astronauts U.S. Navy Capt. Reid Wiseman, U.S. Navy Capt. Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch, and Jeremy Hansen visited Naval Base San Diego to meet with the recovery team and learn more about the recovery vessel and testing that will help bring them safely back to shore.
The recovery team will capture lessons learned and apply them to future underway tests to make sure they are ready to recover the Artemis II crew and bring them home safely.
“The crew module retrieval operation following Orion’s flight is part of a Department of Defense effort that integrates combatant command and service capabilities to determine best practices for safely retrieving spacecraft and crew, in both nominal and contingency scenarios,” said Lt. Col. David Mahan, Director of Operations for First Air Force, Detachment 3, which provides DoD Human Space Flight Support to NASA. “URT-10 is the first time that the DoD and NASA have exercised the additional recovery requirements critical to future crewed missions. This event allowed NASA and the Department of Defense to put their years of training into practice to safely recover the capsule and simulated crew. Lessons learned from URT-10 will ensure that recovery for subsequent crewed Artemis flights be safe and effective.”
Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3 comprises three amphibious squadrons, 15 amphibious warships, and eight naval support elements including approximately 18,000 active-duty and reserve Sailors and Marines. As the deputy commander for amphibious and littoral warfare, U.S. 3rd Fleet, the ESG 3 commander also oversees Mine Countermeasures Group 3 and the 15 littoral combat ships and two subordinate divisions under Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1. ESG 3 is postured in support of U.S. 3rd Fleet as a globally responsive and scalable naval command element, capable of generating, deploying, and employing naval forces and formations for crisis and contingency response, forward presence, and major combat operations focusing on amphibious operations, humanitarian and disaster relief and support to defense civil authorities, and expeditionary logistics.