Story by MC2 Brianna Jones, Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE
Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion One (ACB-1), small-boat crews from USS New Orleans (LPD 18), and Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobile Unit Three (EODMU 3) conducted a training exercise August 5-8 with NASA to develop the skills necessary to recover the Orion space capsule.
The training focused on recovery of the forward bay cover, which is the top of the capsule that detaches after reentering the atmosphere allowing the parachute to deploy for the capsule and the crew inside. It is imperative to recover this piece in order to test it for various items such as the effectiveness of the heat shield material to insure the safety of the parachute, and ultimately, the astronauts.
“The first mission of Orion is going to be unmanned, it’s going to go up and fly around the moon,” said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Greenslade, Orion Division Chief of Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Operations. “It’s actually going to go further away from earth than any space craft that was designed to carry humans; it’s actually going to go out 75,000km past the moon and come back. So NASA needs to recover the forward bay cover, the capsule, and the parachute…. to look at them and certify everything is safe for humans. The next mission after that, Artemis 2, will carry humans on the same flight profile out past the moon and back.”
The various commands are working to recover two items in this simulation, the forward bay cover that houses and protects the parachute for the capsule, as well as the parachute itself. The floatation technology for the forward bay cover is expected to keep it afloat for 30-45 minutes, so it is imperative that recovery operations begin right away. When the capsule splashes down, if it has astronauts in it, the requirement is to have the capsule inside the well deck in the ship within two hours.
Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Marshall Loyson, the craft master of the participating Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) craft, said that ACB-1’s main role was to lift and lower the bay cover into the water so that the divers can practice rigging it to be recovered by a ship. ACB-1’s INLS Warping Tug was there to assist in the cohesion between the dive teams and the boat crews from the ship because the easiest way of lowering the shield into the water is with the tug’s integrated A-frame and wench.
“The idea is that we’ll come over here to spend some time training the divers and the small boat crews off of whatever ship we’re going to be using as we go forward for our other underway recovery test (URT) and then have one mission a year going forward,” said Greenslade. “So we’ll be able to come over here and train and get everybody up to speed and hopefully be refining our training methods so we’re getting better and better.”
For ACB-1, this was an experimental exercise. The command had never specifically trained for this in the past, so each maneuver and handling this type of equipment were all learning experiences.
“Any experimental exercise is going to come with safety concerns, and risks, so the fact that this was executed without any safety violations or casualties is a great credit to the professionalism and skill of our crews,” said Loyson.
The forward bay cover and parachute are part of the Orion space craft, which will be used to complete several “Artemis” missions. Artemis 1, which will be unmanned, is scheduled for November 2020. The plan is that Artemis 2, the mission with humans on board, will be 18 months after that. Artemis 3 will be another year to two years later, and that mission’s purpose is to put humans on the surface of the moon.
“That’s pretty aggressive if you think about it; you’ve got one unmanned mission, one mission that’s crewed, and then we’re going straight back to the moon,” said Greenslade. “There’s a lot of technology that’s got to be developed, they don’t even have a lunar lander developed yet but they’re working on it.”
This exercise is a credit to ACB-1’s ability to adapt and perform unique mission sets that many commands do not have the resources or training to complete.