USS John P. Murtha starts another round of NASA Orion recovery tests

A January 2018, US Navy photo of a mock-up of NASA's Orion crew module floating in the vicinity of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) during an underway recovery test.

US Navy’s San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) is underway for the seventh Underway Recovery Test (URT) off the coast of Southern California in preparation for NASA’s Orion.

URT is part of a US government interagency effort to safely practice and evaluate recovery processes, procedures, hardware and personnel in an open ocean environment that will be used to recover the Orion spacecraft upon its return to Earth.

This will be the first time John P. Murtha will conduct a URT mission with NASA. Throughout the history of the program, a variety of San Antonio-class LPD ships have been utilized to train and prepare NASA and the Navy, utilizing a Boiler Plate Test Article (BTA). The BTA is a mock capsule, designed to roughly the same size, shape, and center of gravity as the crew module which will be used for Orion.

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) in December 2019.

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

During URT-7, John P. Murtha will conduct restricted maneuvering operations. Small boats carrying Navy and NASA divers will deploy 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 two more URT missions before EM-1 takes place.

John P. Murtha is homeported in San Diego and is part of Naval Surface Forces and US 3rd Fleet.

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