Published: Tue, July 02, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Nasa launches Orion crew capsule to test abort system

Nasa launches Orion crew capsule to test abort system

The scene at Port Canaveral in Florida after NASA's test of the Orion capsule's launch abort system.

Fifty-five seconds later, at an altitude of about 31,000 feet and traveling at more than 1,000 miles per hour, the solid fuel-powered launch abort system, or LAS, ignited on computer command, spewing four jets of fiery exhaust and generating 400,000 pounds of thrust. If it passes this test - which does not include any crew - then the next time the LAS will fly will be during Artemis-2, the mission that will fly humans into space on Orion for the first time.

Nasa's partners to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, SpaceX and Boeing, have had problems with their abort systems - something that the space shuttle Challenger did not have when its booster rocket exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986, killing all on board.

The Ascent Abort-2 flight test is a major test milestone that is enabling the safe passage of astronauts aboard Orion on the Artemis missions to the Moon and then Mars. "We want to demonstrate that the LAS works in this environment", said Mark Kirasich, an Orion program manager.

The test is meant to ensure that when the craft carrying humans ascends to space after launch, the abort system can pull the crew module away if there's an emergency.

It lifted off from Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. After reaching an altitude of six miles, the spacecraft's abort sequence triggered. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems manufactured the ATB launch vehicle under its Sounding Rocket Program 3 contract with the Air Force and SMC.

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The Orion spacecraft on Monday before the test of its abort escape system. For Tuesday's test, this won't be a true Orion crew capsule, since engineers plan to let it crash into the ocean at high speed, where it will nearly certainly break apart and sink. NASA plans to send the first woman and next man to the moon in 2024 - laying the foundation for future manned, deep-space missions.

After the primary abort motor burned out, the attitude control system, responding to guidance commands, flipped the Orion around into a tail-first orientation for the fall back toward Earth.

"In an abort scenario, the Launch Abort System and crew module essentially become its own aircraft", said Chuck Dingell, chief engineer for Orion.

A little over 20 seconds later, the jettison motor pulled the capsule away from the rocket. It will take a few months to go through all the data collected by the hundreds of vehicle sensors, he said. While all of the data from the recorders will be downlinked during the flight, the team needs to be able to recover at least one data recorder to provide a full backup if data is lost. "They were labeled, ejected out of canisters and floated in the water".

"We're not expecting it to stay intact when it hits", Jenny Devolites, the Nasa test manager. Analysis of the information will provide insight into the abort systems performance.

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