NASA seeks crew recovery ideas

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Agency outlines likely landing zones in event of abort during ascent on missions to Moon or International Space Station

NASA is seeking ideas on how to recover an Orion crew exploration vehicle and rescue its crew from a crash landing as far afield as the coastal waters of west Africa.

In its request for information the US space agency outlines likely landing zones in the event of an abort during ascent on a mission to the International Space Station or to the Moon. For an ISS mission there would be six astronauts to recover, while there would be four on a lunar mission.

The 3.3m (11ft)-high, 5m-wide, 9,000kg (20,000lb) Orion crew module could be left floating in rough seas up to 500km (270nm) off the US east coast, or conceivably much further away in the north Atlantic following an ISS ascent abort, while in the event of an abort on a lunar launch, the module could splash down as far away as the west African coast.

 

 
© NASA   
May 1969: US Navy swimmers recover the crew of Apollo 10

"The possibility of a contingency following launch or upon re-entry requires the spacecraft be able to land on water and provide the crew a 36h safe haven," says the RFI. NASA is looking for ideas on how to rescue injured crew members how to cope with a night recovery and/or poor visibility and how to deal with a landing in the deep ocean between Newfoundland and Ireland.

The RFI also states NASA is already considering "rescue and recovery methodologies" and that industry responses would "support an analysis of baseline and valid alternate" methodologies.

The normal post-mission recovery scenario for the Orion is a landing in the western half of the USA. The RFI does not specify possible landing locations for erroneous re-entry scenarios.

A recovery team would have to deal with a module that contains high-pressure oxygen and methane systems and would also have to make safe some pyrotechnic devices. The RFI submissions deadline is 25 May.