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  Mid-Air Recovery

As the Genesis capsule descends through the atmosphere, it will be "painted" by powerful radars located on the Utah Test & Training Range. This will provide tracking information allowing ground-based cameras to spot the capsule. Backup tracking is provided by a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit on the Genesis capsule that transmits position data to a ground station, which in turn relays the information to the mission control center. The radar, visual and GPS data will provide an accurate plot in three dimensions for the capsule's location. This plot is generated at the mission control center located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from the range at Hill Air Force Base. A ground control intercept officer based at the Hill Air Force Base mission control will direct helicopter flight crews towards the capsule.

Parafoil pickup
Artist rendering of Vertigo helicopter
lining up to
snap parafoil

Descending at about 3.7 meters per second (12 feet per second, or slightly over 8 miles per hour), it will take about 10 minutes for the capsule to descend after its parafoil deploys until it reaches the 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) altitude inhabited by the two chase helicopters. By this time, the two flight crews will have been hovering for about 10 minutes when they receive the information on the capsule's location. Each helicopter has the capability of making a successful intercept anywhere on the Utah Test & Training Range.

When the primary flight crew "tally-ho's" (visually spots) the Genesis capsule, they will take over the intercept, flying into position behind the parafoil. The crew will lower the capture pole and its hook to about a 50-degree angle as they fly in a trailing formation and observe the parafoil's flight characteristics. If all looks well, they will accelerate so as to overtake the parafoil at a closing speed of about 7 to 10 meters per second (15 to 20 miles per hour). The pilot will skim the top of the capsule's parafoil with only about 2.5 meters (8 feet) separating the helicopter's landing skids and the top of the parafoil.

As the parafoil strikes the boom, its fabric will wrap around the pole and slide down its length into the hook. When the hook encounters 200 pounds of force, the hook will separate from the boom activating a piston that secures the parafoil to the hook. The hook and its out-of-this-world catch will remain connected to the helicopter via a 137-meter (450-foot) Kevlar cable. The helicopter pilot will then pitch the ship's nose up, quickly decelerating to prevent the possibility that the parafoil will re-inflate and cause mischief with the flight characteristics of the helicopter.

If the approach does not look satisfactory, the lead flight crew can wave off. From the anticipated 2.75-kilometer (9,000-foot) altitude for a first capture attempt, there will be an estimated five additional opportunities to perform a successful mid-air retrieval.

   Mid-Air Retrieval Tests (.mpg) button
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Curator: Aimee Meyer
Updated: November 2009

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