It looks like the hardware is gradually slotting into place for the development of the Orion capsule in NASA’s Constellation Program. On July 17th, the ultimate “ejection seat” was tested by NASA and rocket contractor Aerojet: The Orion jettison motor. Should there be an emergency during Ares rocket/Orion capsule during launch, the Orion capsule will have the capability to eject (whether it is on the launchpad or travelling through the atmosphere), ensuring the safety of the crew. This is the first safety measure of its kind, so a successful engine test can only help to boost confidence in the technology behind Orion…
Although there are concerns for the Constellation Program funding and technology-wise, there is good news coming from the development of NASA’s new Orion crew module. The first full-scale test firing of the jettison motor was successful, boosting confidence in the new safety system the capsule will have installed. Later this year, a full-scale “Pad Abort-1” test is scheduled in the New Mexico desert, where a mock Orion will be blasted clear of a model launchpad (up to a mile in altitude) to test the effectiveness of the system. Tests are already under way to deduce whether a dry or wet touch-down will be carried out by the Orion capsule using cadavers (human corpses) as crash-test dummies.
The jettison motor was tested at the Astrojet facility in Sacramento, California, which marks the start of a series of developmental tests before the finished article is integrated into the mock Orion module to begin the New Mexico tests. During last weeks test firing, engineers were testing acoustic, vibration and shock effects on the engines. It appears everything ran smoothly, indicating the jettison system is close to system-level demonstration.
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This is a critical stage in the development of Orion. Since the Columbia disaster in 2003, NASA has felt pressure to ensure the safety of their astronauts. Although strict guidelines are in place, space travel remains a risky business where tough decisions need to be made. Installing an Orion jettison system will be a huge piece of mind for mission controllers and Constellation astronauts should there be launch complications on the pad or as Ares powers through the atmosphere.