Watch Orbital ATK Test Fire NASA’s Orion Launch Abort System

The abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system fired for five seconds in a test at the Promontory, Utah facility of manufacturer Orbital ATK. Credits: Orbital ATK

As summer 2017 quickly gets underway, NASA’s Orion program is making steady progress on a series of different testing programs. In the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston, teams are evaluating Orion’s updated airbag splashdown system, while the team developing Orion’s parachute system just conducted another successful drop test of a mock crew capsule over the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona.

But another critical test of the spacecraft’s ability to keep astronauts safe took place this week too, when Orbital ATK successfully test fired the abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system (LAS) on June 15, at the company’s site in Promontory, Utah.

Fastened to a test stand with its nozzles aimed skyward, the 17-foot tall, 3-foot diameter motor unleashed 400,000 pounds in just 0.125 seconds, and burned for a total of five seconds; plenty of time to abort a crew from a failing rocket. Columns of flames from four nozzles shot 100 feet high, and “produced enough thrust to lift 66 large SUVs off the ground,” according to NASA.

“The launch abort system is positioned on top of the Orion crew module and will play a critical role protecting future crews traveling to deep space destinations in Orion,” added the space agency.

The abort motor was already successfully static tested in late 2008, and was flight tested during Orion’s Pad Abort test in 2010. It is intended to carry crew away from an emergency during launch, such as escaping an exploding rocket, and this week’s first qualification test fire, “verified the motor can fire within milliseconds when needed, and will work as expected under high temperatures.”

Three more “qualification motor” static tests are planned. The next is coming late this year, and will be followed by the Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test (AA-2) in 2019, which will see a mock Orion launch atop a specially-made Orbital ATK rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS, to test the LAS in flight.

Some facts from Orbital ATK:

  • Abort motor activation within milliseconds
  • Lifts the crew module to safety with an acceleration over 10gs
  • Abort Motor propellant burns 3-4 times faster than a typical motor of this size.
  • Motor provides thrust of about 400,000 pounds imparted within under 3 seconds
  • Performance facilitates rapid removal of the crew from an anomaly on the pad or during ascent.
  • Over 17 feet in length
  • Three feet in diameter
  • Turn ow technology
  • High burn rate propellant
  • Rapid ignition Igniter
  • The launch abort motor goes from zero to 400-500 mph in two seconds



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