Press Release

Northrop Grumman Plays Major Role in NASA’s Development of Alternate Astronaut Escape System Launch Abort System Successfully Tested At NASA Facility

By SpaceRef Editor
July 8, 2009
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Northrop Grumman Plays Major Role in NASA’s Development of Alternate Astronaut Escape System Launch Abort System Successfully Tested At NASA Facility

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOCs) played a major role in NASA’s development of an alternate astronaut escape system that was successfully demonstrated today in a simulated launch abort test.

For images and video of the test firing, visit:

The unpiloted test was part of an assessment by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) of a potential alternate launch abort system concept that could be used for future piloted spacecraft. The test occurred at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

NASA’s Constellation Program is designing the Orion crew exploration vehicle, Ares launch vehicles and Altair Lunar Lander that will return humans to the moon to live and work. The Orion launch abort system offers a proven method of pulling the crew out of danger in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb to Earth orbit.

The alternate system is called the Max Launch Abort System (MLAS), which could deliver aerodynamic performance benefits, weight savings and be relatively simple in some spacecraft applications. The demonstration vehicle consists of a full-scale composite fairing, a full-scale crew module simulator and four solid rocket abort motors mounted in the boost skirt with motor mass simulators in the forward fairing.

“Our contribution to the MLAS demonstration is one example of a number of Northrop Grumman initiatives designed to help NASA mitigate risks related to key aspects of its Constellation Program,” said Carl Meade, director of Constellation Systems for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.

Northrop Grumman developed and produced the composite fairing, fins, drag plates, and motor cage structure. Company personnel based in Wallops Island, Va., performed structures and mechanism assembly and supported the vehicle integration and flight test. Northrop Grumman’s subcontractor, Ensign Bickford Aerospace and Defense, Simsbury, Conn., provided pyrotechnic separation system mechanisms.

“We contributed our expertise in structures and mechanisms including advanced composites design, analysis and manufacturing from across the company,” said Tod Palm, Northrop Grumman’s MLAS program manager. “It was especially gratifying to work alongside NASA in a fast-paced, seamless team environment. We look forward to future opportunities to work with the NASA team to address similarly challenging issues.”

The prototype in the test was used to evaluate the means to safely propel a spacecraft and its crew from an errant rocket. It represents a departure from the tower launch abort system used during Apollo launches and retained for the NASA Constellation Program.

The MLAS test was primarily a demonstration of unpowered flight along a stable trajectory, vehicle reorientation and stabilization, followed by crew module simulator separation from the MLAS fairing, stabilization and parachute recovery of the crew module simulator.

Northrop Grumman is working with NASA on other elements of the Constellation Program, including the Altair Lunar Lander. The company brings extensive experience with lunar landers, solar system probes and space observatories, along with its expertise in designing and producing large complex systems from spacecraft to ships to high performance aircraft.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.


Jim Hart
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
(310) 466-5509

July 8, 2009
Contact: Beth Higdon

SpaceRef staff editor.