February 27, 2020 – When NASA astronauts blast off for their voyage to the Moon on the Orion spacecraft during Artemis missions, they’ll have protection in the form of the launch abort system (LAS). The LAS is designed to carry crew to safety in the event of an emergency during launch or ascent atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket.
On February 25, NASA successfully tested the attitude control motor (ACM), which is built by Northrop Grumman and provides steering for Orion’s LAS during an abort, at the company’s facility in Elkton, Maryland. The 30-second hot fire was the third and final test to qualify the motor for human missions, beginning with Artemis II.
During the test, eight high pressure valves directed more than 7,000 pounds of thrust generated by the solid rocket motor in multiple directions while firing at freezing conditions, providing enough force to orient Orion and its crew for a safe landing.
The LAS consists of three solid rocket motors: the abort motor pulls the crew module away from the launch vehicle; the ACM steers and orients the capsule; then the jettison motor ignites to separate the LAS from Orion prior to parachute deployment and to ensure a safe crew landing. Last year, NASA demonstrated the LAS in a full-stress test known as Ascent Abort-2. During the test, a booster sent a representative Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet to demonstrate the motors system worked as planned during the point of launch when the spacecraft experiences the greatest aerodynamic forces. In 2010, NASA tested the LAS’ functionality in Pad Abort-1, a test that showed the motors can work if there’s a problem on the pad before the rocket launches. These tests serve to assess and refine many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.
NASA has qualified the jettison motor, and has completed two of the three tests to qualify the abort motor. All three motors on the LAS will be qualified for crewed flights following the final abort motor test ahead of Artemis II, another step that brings NASA and Orion closer to sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.