NASA Moves Up Critical Crew Safety Launch Abort Test


NASA's Orion spacecraft is scheduled to undergo a design test in April 2019 of the capsule's launch abort system (LAS).

The LAS is a rocket-powered tower on top of the crew module built to very quickly get astronauts safely away from their launch vehicle if there is a problem during ascent.

This full-stress test of the LAS, called Ascent Abort Test 2 (AA-2), will see a booster, provided by Orbital ATK, launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying a fully functional LAS and a 22,000 pound Orion test vehicle to an altitude of 32,000 feet at Mach 1.3 (over 1,000 miles an hour). At that point, the LAS' powerful reverse-flow abort motor will fire, carrying the Orion test vehicle away from the missile. Timing is crucial as the abort events must match the abort timing requirements of the Orion spacecraft to the millisecond in order for the flight test data to be valid.

NASA is accelerating the timeline of the test to provide engineers with critical abort test data sooner to help validate computer models of the spacecraft's LAS performance and system functions.

"This will be the only time we test a fully active launch abort system during ascent before we fly crew, so verifying that it works as predicted, in the event of an emergency, is a critical step before we put astronauts on board," said Don Reed, manager of the Orion Program's Flight Test Management Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "No matter what approach you take, having to move a 22,000-pound spacecraft away quickly from a catastrophic event, like a potential rocket failure, is extremely challenging."

The test will verify the LAS can steer the crew module and astronauts inside to safety in the event of an issue with a Space Launch System rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during a rapid climb into or beyond orbit for deep-space missions.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.