A ground firing test of the abort motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System (LAS) was successfully conducted at Orbital ATK’s facility in Promontory, UT. The launch abort motor is a major part of the LAS, which enhances spaceflight safety for astronauts.
The demonstration brings Orion one step closer to its first flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System, Exploration Mission-1, and to eventually enabling humans to explore beyond the Moon, Mars and other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.
Orion’s LAS is designed to safely jettison the spacecraft and crew out of harm’s way in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during initial launch ascent. The Qualification Motor-1 test, performed with NASA and Lockheed Martin, will confirm the motor can activate within milliseconds and will perform as designed under high temperatures.
The abort motor, which stands over 17 feet tall and spans three feet at its diameter, has a manifold with four exhaust nozzles. It was fixed into a vertical test stand with its nozzles pointing skyward. Upon ignition, the abort motor fired for five seconds with the exhaust plume flames reaching up to 100 feet in height.
The high-impulse motor was specifically developed so the majority of its propellant would be expended in the first three seconds, burning three times faster than a typical motor of this size and delivering the thrust needed to pull the crew module safely away from its launch vehicle. The motor reached 400,000 pounds of thrust in one eighth of a second, as expected, which is enough thrust to lift 66 large SUVs off the ground.
Orbital ATK’s next major abort motor milestones include the QM-2 launch abort motor test firing scheduled for late next year in Utah and the Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test (AA-2) scheduled to take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, in 2019.