Imagine driving along in your car, minding your own business and getting passed by this. It could happen to you this week. This is a 13.7 meter (45 feet) -long full-scale mock-up that’s part of the rocket assembly for the launch abort system for the new Orion crew exploration vehicle. The system hit the road on Tuesday, March 3, 2009, and is traveling from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to undergo the first flight tests of the system. The launch abort system will allow the astronaut crew to safely escape in the event of an emergency during launch.
The mock-up, also known as the LAS pathfinder, represents the size, outer shape and specific mass characteristics of Orion’s abort system.
The real system will be composed of solid rocket motors, separation mechanisms, and an adapter structure to provide escape capability for the Orion crew from pad operations through ascent. The new design, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. is key in vastly improving the safety of the flight crew as compared to what the shuttle has.
In case you’re wondering, in the background are large, white vacuum spheres used at the hypersonic wind tunnel complex at Langley.