This week ATK successfully completed a static test firing of the launch abort motor igniter for the Launch Abort System (LAS) of NASA’s Orion deep space crew capsule. The test, which was conducted at the company’s facility in Promontory, Utah, is the next step toward qualifying the igniter for production as the clock continues to tick toward the first launch of Orion on the space agency’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2018.
“As a former astronaut, I understand how critical the abort motor is to the safety of those flying aboard the Orion spacecraft,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Launch division. “ATK is operating at the highest standard to ensure this motor will be ready and reliable, if needed.”
The LAS will be attached to the top of Orion, and it is absolutely critical in ensuring the safe return of any crew should something go wrong over the Atlantic Ocean during launch. In the future, if an in-flight anomaly occurred that warranted an abort, Orion’s LAS would fire up its escape rocket within milliseconds to carry Orion—with an acceleration over 10 Gs—safely away from the gigantic SLS launch vehicle for a parachute landing offshore from the launch site.
For the test, technicians exposed the igniter to vibrations and extreme temperatures to simulate the same pre-operating and flight conditions it will experience during a real mission, firing it up to its hottest condition. Previous tests of the igniter included a development test that verified igniter performance analytical models prior to a static test of the launch abort motor, and Pad Abort-1, a ground launch test of the entire LAS. Another similar test is planned for next year, and for that test the igniter will be fired at its coldest temperature, as opposed to its hottest temperature for this most recent test.
“Our employees have done an outstanding job in advancing the maturity of the launch abort motor by successfully executing several qualification tests this summer, including the manifold ultimate loads test, igniter closure hydro-test and this igniter static fire test,” said Precourt. “This is real rocket science, and our employees are committed, intelligent people making our journey to deep space possible.”
The next major abort motor milestone will be its Critical Design Review, scheduled for summer 2015.
ATK already supplies the solid fueled boosters that are needed to give ULAs larger Atlas-V and Delta-IV rocket variants the extra push they need to deliver larger payloads to space, such as top-secret classified NRO satellites and NASA’s armada of spacecraft that are currently exploring other worlds across the Solar System. The company also provides the upper stage power required to deliver Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo craft on course to catch the International Space Station. ATK may, however, be best know for providing NASA with the incredibly powerful solid rocket boosters which launched the now retired space shuttles and their crews to orbit.
The company recently completed the Critical Design Review (CDR) for the giant five-segment boosters that will help launch NASA’s Orion on the agency’s deep space heavy lift SLS rocket as well. Those boosters will be the largest human-rated solid rocket motors ever to fly, and ATK is preparing for a full-scale ground static firing of the booster, Qualification Motor-1 (QM-1), planned for early next year at ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah, with the first launch of NASA’s mammoth SLS rocket expected to fly with ATK’s giant boosters for it’s first mission no later than November 2018.
Orion itself will make its first orbital flight test on Dec. 4 on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission for NASA, which will launch atop America’s largest and most powerful rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.