Orion passes first full-scale rocket propulsion test

  • 30-Jun-2008 07:21 EDT

The Orion Launch Abort System, shown with its motor firing in this artist rendering, will allow the astronaut crew to safely escape in the event of an emergency during pad operations or during the ascent of the flight.

Orbital Sciences Corp. and Aerojet recently conducted a test firing of the jettison motor, a key component of the Launch Abort System (LAS) for NASA’s Orion next-generation human spaceflight program. This successful firing marked the first full-scale rocket propulsion test for the Orion program.

The Orion project, led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., is part of NASA’s Constellation program to send human explorers back to the Moon and onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

Orbital is responsible for designing, building, and testing the LAS, which will allow the astronaut crew to safely escape in the event of an emergency during launchpad operations or during the ascent phase of the flight. The LAS is composed primarily of solid rocket motors, separation mechanisms, canards, and an adapter structure.

Orbital will also perform system-level safety and reliability analyses in support of the entire project. Aerojet, one of Orbital’s two propulsion subcontractors, along with Alliant Techsystems Inc., is responsible for the jettison motor, which would be used on every mission to jettison the LAS when it is no longer needed.

The full-scale jettison motor test successfully met test plan objectives, providing data to validate analytical models. It also demonstrated that the system’s design criteria and manufacturing processes are in place for the jettison motor system to meet the technical and scheduling requirements of the LAS.

The Orion LAS development program includes several planned demonstration flights, including a pad abort demonstration at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in late 2008.

“This focused 18-month effort to design and fabricate the motor and conduct a high-fidelity static firing has proven the performance objectives of the Launch Abort System jettison motor and is a key milestone for the upcoming Orion Pad Abort-1 flight test,” said Aerojet President Scott Neish.

Initial crewed flights to orbit are planned for the 2013 to 2014 period, followed by a series of operational missions to the International Space Station and the Moon.

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