NASA’s Pad Abort 1 flight test, a launch of the abort system designed for the Orion crew vehicle, lifted off at 7 a.m. MDT Thursday at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) near Las Cruces, N.M. The flight lasted about 135 seconds from launch until the crew module touchdown about a mile north of the launch pad.
The flight was the first fully-integrated test of this launch abort system design. The information gathered from the test will help refine design and analysis for future launch abort systems, resulting in safer and more reliable crew escape capability during rocket launch emergencies.
“Through hard work and incredible dedication over the past several years, the Orion Pad Abort 1 team has successfully tested the first U.S. designed abort system since Apollo,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“This system is much more advanced in capability and technology than any abort system designed in the past. NASA strives to make human spaceflight as safe as possible, and what we learned here will greatly contribute to that goal.”
The test involved three motors. An abort motor produced a momentary half-million pounds of thrust to propel the crew module away from the pad. It burned for approximately six seconds, with the highest impulse in the first 2.5 seconds. The crew module reached a speed of approximately 445 mph in the first three seconds, with a maximum velocity of 539 mph, in its upward trajectory to about 1.2 miles high.
The attitude control motor fired simultaneously with the abort motor and steered the vehicle using eight thrusters producing up to 7,000 pounds of thrust. It provided adjustable thrust to keep the crew module on a controlled flight path and reorient the vehicle as the abort system burned out.
The jettison motor, the only motor of the three that would be used in all nominal rocket launches, pulled the entire launch abort system away from the crew module and cleared the way for parachute deployment and landing. After explosive bolts fired and the jettison motor separated the system from the crew module, the recovery parachute system deployed. The parachutes guided the crew module to touchdown at 16.2 mph (24 feet per second), about one mile from the launch pad.
The Orion Project has begun the process of recovering all of the test articles from the WSMR range and will be evaluating all of the data over the coming weeks.
The Orion Project office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston led the launch abort system test team. System development is led by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Langley designed and produced the boilerplate crew module for the flight test.
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., prepared the crew module for integration and led the flight test vehicle integration at WSMR with Lockheed Martin Corp. of Denver, the prime contractor to NASA for Orion. The nearby NASA White Sands Test Facility provided design, construction and management for the launch and ground facilities at WSMR, as well as personnel on the integration and launch preparation team.
Lockheed led the industry team development efforts for the launch abort system. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., provided design, development and support of the system; Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, of Magna, Utah, developed the abort and the attitude control motors; Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., developed the jettison motor; and Honeywell of Morristown, N.J., provided the avionics for onboard control of abort sequencing and inertial navigation.
earlier related report
Orion Launch Abort System Tests Limits Of New Technologies
Within 97 seconds of an initial 500,000-pound blast of solid rocket motor thrust, Orion completed its first successful flight test of the launch abort system (LAS) at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico at 7 a.m. MT.
Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), the prime contractor to NASA for the Orion crew exploration vehicle, led the industry team’s development effort on this new system that will significantly improve crew safety for future human space flight. The LAS is designed to immediately pull the crew module away from the launch vehicle during an emergency on the pad or during the climb to orbit.
After receiving the planned abort command at 7 a.m., the LAS instantly activated and the abort motor fired, thrusting the 55.5-ft-tall launch abort vehicle and crew module mock-up off the pad, reaching a speed of about 445 mph in three seconds. More than 690 measurements were taken real-time during the test, providing data only gained through early test flights.
“It was an impressive launch,” said Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. “This test validated the amazing performance capability of Orion’s launch abort system. The entire industry team did an excellent job designing, building and integrating this extremely complex system.”
With contributions from key subcontractors Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems, Honeywell and Orbital Sciences Corporation, the Lockheed Martin Orion team integrated technical expertise in solid rocket motors, separation mechanisms, avionics, spacecraft adapter structures, ordnance systems, electrical systems, harnesses and design integration to ensure the LAS provided optimal escape capability for a crew.
The crew module boilerplate used for the flight test included Honeywell avionics and Lockheed Martin software for onboard control of abort sequencing and inertial navigation.
“This new system offers the highest thrust and acceleration escape system ever tested and is the only system of its kind in the world,” said Roger McNamara, Lockheed Martin director, Launch Abort System. “Technology ‘firsts’ we incorporated into the LAS design include a reverse-flow, high-thrust human-rated rocket motor and the world’s largest and only human-rated controllable solid rocket motor.”
The abort motor with revolutionary reverse flow nozzles, pulls the Orion capsule away from the launch vehicle – something America has never built before and the first to be human-rated. The attitude control motor provides directional control for the vehicle, the first-time a solid rocket motor has been designed to vector, steer and control.
The attitude control motor also provides directional control for the jettison motor, which separates the crew module from the LAS so that parachutes can deploy for a safe landing.
NASA selected Lockheed Martin in 2006 to develop the Orion crew exploration vehicle as the flagship for the nation’s next generation spacecraft to send humans to low Earth orbit and beyond. Orion is currently on schedule for an early demonstration flight in 2013 to prove the vehicle in low Earth orbit before taking on more challenging deep space exploration missions.
Risk reduction testing, such as the Pad Abort-1 flight test, has been an ongoing effort throughout Orion’s development phase to maximize mission success and significantly improve crew safety.
An abort motor system has been used twice by the Russians, once during a rocket failure on the pad and the other during launch near the end of flight. The cosmonauts walked away in both instances, proving how critical these systems can be for safe human space flight.
“Although this system is designed for crew safety, we hope it is only used during flight tests like these,” Lacefield commented. “The data we collect from this launch will be vital as we continue to meet milestones and work towards completing Orion’s Critical Design Review next year.”