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Amphib John P. Murtha Practices NASA Spacecraft Recovery off California

NASA’s Recovery Team and the U.S. Navy test procedures and ground support equipment to improve recovery procedures and hardware ahead of Orion’s next flight. NASA photo.

Amphibious transport dock USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26) is underway off the coast of San Diego practicing with NASA officials how to recover the Orion spacecraft.

When the space agency resumes sending manned missions into space, the Navy will use San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks to recover NASA spacecraft and astronauts. The last exercise occurred in January, involving USS Anchorage (LPD-23) retrieving a mockup of an Orion space capsule.

The current exercise is the first practice run for Murtha, and one of the final rehearsals before NASA plans to launch its first uncrewed Orion mission into space late in 2019. Astronauts are expected to be onboard for following Orion missions, according to program details from NASA.

Previous practice runs included launching small rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) to bring Navy and NASA divers to the model Orion capsule. A NASA-designed winch hauled the capsule into the amphib’s well deck. Murtha’s mission involves validating and verifying the recovery hardware, according to a NASA statement.

Since the well decks on San Antonio-class amphibs are designed to launch and recover amphibious craft, the Navy considers this platform an ideal match for the recovery of NASA spacecraft after splashdown in the ocean. The San Antonio-class amphib can launch multiple small RHIBs and has and has an advanced medical facility onboard.

US Navy divers assist NASA, and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD-23) recover a mock-up capsule designed to roughly simulate the size, shape, mass and center of gravity of the Orion crew module. US Navy Photo

Next year, NASA plans to launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft into space on Exploration Mission-1 aboard a Space Launch System rocket. During a scheduled three-week mission, the Orion spacecraft is expected to travel 280,000 miles from Earth and past the moon – further than any previous spacecraft designed to carry astronauts has completed without docking at a space station, according to NASA.