NASA’s Orion spacecraft – designed to take astronauts to deep space destinations such as the Moon and Mars – has successfully completed a series of tests for its critical safety systems. Researchers tested the abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system on June 15, firing the 17-foot tall motor for five seconds. The motor was fastened to a vertical test stand with its nozzles pointed toward the sky for the test. It produced enough thrust to lift 66 large SUVs off the ground and helps qualify the system for future missions with astronauts.
“The launch abort system is an important part of making sure our crew members stay safe on the launch pad and on their way to space,” said Robert Decoursey, manager for Orion’s launch abort system. “It takes us another step closer to proving the safety of our spacecraft as we prepare for missions beyond the moon,” Decoursey said.
The launch abort system is positioned on top of the Orion crew module and will play a critical role protecting future crews travelling to deep space destinations in Orion. The abort motor is responsible for propelling the crew module away from the Space Launch System rocket in case of an emergency, and one of three total motors that will send the crew module to a safe distance away from a failing rocket and orient it properly for a safe descent into the Atlantic Ocean if such a situation ever occurs.
While engineers are just getting started analysing the data, the test verified the motor can fire within milliseconds when needed and will work as expected under high temperatures. Researchers also evaluated how the parachute system that ensures the crew module can safely descend to Earth performs during a scenario in which an abort while on the launch pad is necessary.
When Orion returns to Earth from deep space missions beyond the Moon, the system will customarily deploy 11 parachutes in a precise sequence to help slow the crew module down from high speeds for a relatively slow splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
However the parachutes must also be capable of sending the crew module to safety if it were to be jettisoned off a failing rocket without time for the full deployment sequence to occur.