Arcata’s Wing Inflatables helps NASA with Mars mission

WINGS OF ORION U.S. Navy divers recover the Orion space capsule using, in foreground, a Wing Inflatables P4.7. The two larger craft are Willard Marine rigid inflatable boats with Wing collars. U.S. Navy photo

WINGS OF ORION U.S. Navy divers recover the Orion space capsule using, in foreground, a Wing Inflatables P4.7. The two larger craft are Willard Marine rigid inflatable boats with Wing collars. U.S. Navy photo

Roger Eckart
Mad River Union

PACIFIC OCEAN – It was an unmanned test, but the United States’ return to human-rated space flight resumed after 42 years on Dec. 4. As part of Experimental Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), the Orion capsule was launched, orbited and just as importantly, recovered for re-use.

The state-of-the-art spaceship was plucked from the Pacific Ocean with crucial assistance from Arcata’s Wing Inflatables.

A Delta IV-Heavy, the most powerful rocket in use today, propelled Orion into an elliptical orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. After two orbits and a second stage boost to an apogee of 3,600 miles – 14 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – Orion re-entered the atmosphere at a blistering 20,000 mph, its heat shield protecting the capsule and its components from the scorching 4,000 degree temperatures.

After splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California, the USS Anchorage, a Navy landing platform dock (LPD), moved in with its helicopters, rigid inflatable boats (RIBS) and inflatables to secure Orion’s safe recovery. The RIBS and inflatables were created all or in part right here in Arcata. The RIBS, a Willard Marine “Sea Force” 11m, incorporates a Wing collar. The much smaller black inflatables, the Wing P4.7 Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) carried Navy divers for the initial connection of lines to the Orion capsule, bobbing gently in the sea.

“All inflatable parts are made proudly here in Arcata, California,” affirmed David Kelly, Wing Inflatables’ vice president of sales.

After capture, Orion was returned to the USS Anchorage, then brought to shore for a two-week journey back to Cape Canaveral for analysis.

The U.S. has continuously had crew on the ISS in orbit for the last 15 years, and is actively pursuing re-entry to manned space flight after the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011.

Russia charges the U.S. $70 million per round trip to the ISS. Efforts to restore domestic space service keep those funds at home.

Contrary to popular misapprehension, all of the space budget is spent right here on planet Earth – and creating skilled jobs for workers like the ones who built the boats that plucked Orion from the Pacific.

 

 







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