Arlington, Virginia. September 30, 2014 – NASA and ATK successfully completed a static test of the launch abort motor igniter for the Orion crew capsule’s Launch Abort System (LAS). Conducted at ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah, this test is the next step toward qualifying the igniter for production.
The LAS will be placed on top of the Orion spacecraft, the first spacecraft capable of taking humans to multiple destinations in deep space. Orion will launch aboard NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), and its LAS will include an escape rocket on top of the capsule that can carry the crew to safety if any anomalies occur during the launch. This igniter design enables the abort motor to activate within milliseconds, lifting the crew module to safety with an acceleration over 10gs.
“As a former astronaut, I understand how critical the abort motor is to the safety of those flying aboard the Orion spacecraft,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Launch division. “ATK is operating at the highest standard to ensure this motor will be ready and reliable, if needed.”
For this qualification test, technicians exposed the igniter to vibrations and extreme temperatures to simulate pre-operating and flight conditions before firing it at its hottest temperature. Next year, the igniter will undergo a similar qualification test, but it will be fired at its coldest temperature.
Previous tests include a development test that verified igniter performance analytical models prior to a static test of the launch abort motor, and Pad Abort-1, a ground launch test of the entire LAS.
“Our employees have done an outstanding job in advancing the maturity of the launch abort motor by successfully executing several qualification tests this summer, including the manifold ultimate loads test, igniter closure hydro-test and this igniter static fire test,” said Precourt. “This is real rocket science, and our employees are committed, intelligent people making our journey to deep space possible.”
SLS began welding the rocket’s fuel tanks on the Vertical Assembly Center at the Michoud Assembly Center in New Orleans last week, while NASA anticipates a test fire of the RS-25 engine by the end of the year at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
This year’s milestones will conclude with Orion’s first test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), scheduled for December 4. All nominal functions, including separation, will be tested on the LAS, but because the mission will be unscrewed, the abort functions will be inactive. The LAS abort functions were previously tested in New Mexico at White Sands Missile Range during Pad Abort Test 1.
The next major abort motor milestone will be its Critical Design Review, scheduled for summer 2015.
During EFT-1, the spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and will travel 3,600 miles beyond low Earth orbit—15 times further than the International Space Station. That same day, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
EFT-1 will provide engineers with data about systems critical to crew safety such as heat shield performance, separation events, avionics and software performance, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment, and recovery operations to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in deep space.
A ground static firing of ATK’s full-scale SLS booster, Qualification Motor-1 (QM-1), is planned for early 2015 at ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah.