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NEWS | Feb. 28, 2024

Department of Defense completes Underway Recovery Test 11 with NASA

By Courtesy Story, Expeditionary Strike Group 3

NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Landing and Recovery team and the Department of Defense successfully completed the second recovery test for the crewed Artemis II mission aboard the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22) off the coast of San Diego, Feb. 28.

Underway Recovery Test 11 was the eleventh in a series of tests and the first time the Department of Defense and NASA completed a full recovery simulation with the Artemis II Flight Crew.

“The U.S. Navy has many unique capabilities that make it an ideal partner to support NASA. Amphibious transport dock ships, such as ours, give NASA the ability to recover the capsule and collect critical data to help make sure everything is ready to recover the astronauts and capsule during future Artemis missions,” said Capt. David Walton, commanding officer of USS San Diego. “Our combined NASA and Department of Defense team has gone through extensive training to make sure we recover our astronauts and Orion safely.”

Underway Recovery Test 11 allowed NASA and the Department of Defense to practice operational procedures for Artemis II, including timing of crew extraction from the capsule to the ship’s medical bay and day-and-night recovery procedures to support certification of personnel and processes for Artemis II mission.

Artemis II astronauts U.S. Navy Capt. Reid Wiseman, U.S. Navy Capt. Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch, and Jeremy Hansen embarked the ship for Underway Recovery Test 11.

“This crew is really setting the foundation for the whole operation -- all other forces are welcomed onboard and we operate as a team, but it’s really the culture of the ship that leads to the success of this mission,” said Wiseman. “Being back on a Navy ship, being at sea, seeing everyone smiling, it has been a real highlight for me.”

Working in support of U.S. Space Command, additional U.S. Navy units included Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Mobile Unit 1, and Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, 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 the 2022 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 modified their timelines and procedures to ensure the astronauts will be safely on the recovery ship within 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 Underway Recovery Test 11, 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.

"Each time we train for this underway recovery we learn something new," said Senior Chief Navy Diver Ryan Crider, who leads the team of divers assigned to Underway Recovery Test 11. "For my team, practicing our procedures in different conditions and environments helps to build our confidence and proficiency and prepares us to be successful when it matters most."

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.

“Previous Underway Recovery Tests have perfected the procedures and techniques used by NASA and the DoD to recover the Orion crew module from the water,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Pieper, First Air Force, Detachment 3 Artemis Program director. “Underway Recovery Test 11 made the next key step by incorporating the Artemis II crew into the operation to finalize the methods that will safely recover the astronauts following their mission to the moon.”

As the Department of Defense’s Human Space Flight Support manager, U.S. Space Command is responsible for the terrestrial rescue and recovery of NASA-sponsored astronauts and spacecraft for the Artemis program.

“The DoD has been conducting human space flight support operations for over six decades with each new mission presenting new challenges to overcome,” said Pieper. “This underway recovery test emphasizes the vital relationships between NASA, U.S. Space Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Navy, and Air Forces Space, all of whom play an important role in advancing spaceflight in the 21st Century and laying the foundation for future human exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond.”

Expeditionary Strike Group 3 comprises three amphibious squadrons, 16 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 Expeditionary Strike Group 3 commander also oversees Mine Countermeasures Group 3 and the 16 littoral combat ships under Littoral Combat Ship Squadrons 1 and 3.

Expeditionary Strike Group 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.

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