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NASA Testing Orion Replica Space Capsule Off San Diego Coast

A replica of the Orion capsule sits at Naval Base San Diego after a week of t...

Credit: Matt Hoffman/KPBS

Above: A replica of the Orion capsule sits at Naval Base San Diego after a week of testing in the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 25, 2018.

Thursday NASA and the U.S. Navy gathered to discuss the recent testing, which they have been doing since 2014 in preparation for Orion's launch next December.

"NASA has design standards," Melissa Jones said.

Jones is in charge of recovering the test capsule for NASA.

"Our hardware has to meet those design standards."

This was NASA's sixth recovery mission with the Orion replica capsule.

For the last week, NASA crews were on the Navy's USS Anchorage (LPD 23) practicing recovering the capsule.

"We got about 18 runs and typically we get one a day," Jones said. "So we got twice as many just on this test then we’ve ever gotten."

USS Anchorage has a special compartment to help recover the capsule.

"Despite the fact that it’s designed for amphibious assault transporting marines, it is actually very suited to the NASA mission," said Capt. Dennis Jacko, commanding officer on USS Anchorage.

Photo credit: Matt Hoffman

The test capsule is loaded onto USS Anchorage's (LPD 23) well deck during recovery, Jan. 25, 2018.

During testing, the capsule is pulled into the ship where crew members work to secure it.

"We have a winch line that gets attached and we have four lines that go out from the wing walls," Jones said, describing how the capsule is pulled into the ship. "Get attached to the capsule and then we reel it back in. Involves six small boats that we use."

This is the fourth test NASA has done with the USS Anchorage crew.

"It’s a significant effort as far as the tech department and NASA," Jacko said. "We probably have total maybe about 120 involved both in the boats, as well as in the well decks."

The actual Orion capsule is set to orbit the Moon sometime in December 2019 before touching down about 60 miles off San Diego’s coast.

"We’ve learned a couple of small things that we will change," Jones said. "Different pressures that allow us to have more control. But ultimately the system that we’re testing right now is going to be the system that we use."

NASA said they still have three more recovery tests before Orion's launch in 2019.

This week NASA and the U.S. Navy tested recovering an unmanned capsule that is going into space next year.

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