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Innovative Collaboration Paves Way For Efficient Spacecraft Transport

  • Published
  • By Michael Sparks

In an unprecedented display of interagency cooperation, First Air Force (Air Forces Space), Detachment 3, alongside the 729th Airlift Squadron and several other key military and NASA entities, have successfully executed a FIT Check/Air Transportability Certification of the NASA Orion Recovery Cradle Assembly (ORCA) . This exercise serves as a proof of concept for utilizing C-17 aircraft for post-mission transport of the Orion Crew Module, potentially revolutionizing logistics within space exploration.

“This successful FIT Check/Air Transportability Certification marks a pivotal moment in space exploration logistics,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Thomas Logan, First Air Force (AFSPACE), Detachment 3 lead for the interagency event. “The unique design of the ORCA allows for the Orion Capsule to be recovered from the ocean using the Navy’s LPD (Landing Platform Dock) vessels and then be quickly configured for airlift. Leveraging the capabilities of the C-17 for the Orion Crew Module’s transport will not only save NASA capital but also accelerate our readiness for subsequent missions.”

This initiative is of paramount importance as it aims to enhance the efficiency of returning the Orion Crew Module to Kennedy Space Center in Florida after Artemis II and subsequent missions. By choosing air transport instead of conventional land transportation, NASA expects to achieve considerable time savings in the schedule. This time efficiency translates into cost savings, given that a substantial portion of the equipment is repurposed for future missions.

This collaboration underscores the potential for innovative solutions to enhance efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the realm of aerospace transport, setting a new standard for future operations.

As the DoD’s Human Space Flight Support manager, USSPACECOM is tasked with the terrestrial rescue and recovery of NASA-sponsored astronauts and spacecraft. This specialized support includes pre-positioning rescue forces, ensuring unique communication abilities, and orchestrating the recovery of crewed space flight assets.

AFSPACE, serving as the air component for USSPACECOM, coordinates DoD support for NASA’s Artemis, Commercial Crew, and Soyuz programs through Detachment 3. During crewed flights, AFSPACE’s Detachment 3 positions alert rescue forces at strategic locations to respond to potential contingencies.

The partnership between the DoD and NASA has been pivotal in the success of joint space missions, from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects to the Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station/Soyuz Program.