The first recovery tests for the Orion, NASA's in-development multi-purpose crew vehicle, didn't exactly go as planned. Cut short by difficulty handling lines to secure the test vehicle inside a flooded hull, the team learned a lot in preparation for upcoming full test-flights this fall.

Orion's splashdown test

Retrieving the boilerplate Orion test-platform by attaching it with lines to a tow-vehicle.

The February exercises off the California coast were to practice recovery of the Orion test vehicle. Out in the Pacific Ocean, about 100 kilometres from San Diego, NASA and the US Navy collaborated to check out processes, procedures, hardware and personnel necessary for splashdown recovery.

Orion's splashdown test

Using lines to haul the tow-vehicle into the flooded hull.

The plan is to tow the Orion into the flooded hull of an amphibious transport dock ship, secure it to a specially-designed cradle, then drain the hull. Alas, the tests were cut short when the crew had difficulty with lines securing the crew module within the hull of the USS San Diego.

Orion's splashdown test

Using lines to secure the Orion within the USS San Diego was more challenging than anticipated.

During testing, wave turbulence within the well deck of the ship caused the crew module to put too much tension on the tether lines. But things not going as planned doesn't make this a failed test. In the words of the press release:

"Even though the testing didn't go as we had planned, we're learning lessons that will help us be better prepared to retrieve Orion after it travels more than 3,600 miles into space and comes home," said Bill Hill, assistant deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The Orion testing work we do is helping us work toward sending humans to deep space."

Orion's splashdown test

The Orion is designed to carry astronauts to new destinations, including asteroids, Mars, and wherever else shows up in future NASA budgets. The first unpiloted test flight is scheduled for fall 2014 atop a Delta IV rocket, with tests on the NASA Space Launch System Rocket by 2017.

All images credit NASA from the Orion gallery.