NASA successfully tested the pad abort system developed for the Orion crew vehicle on Thursday morning at the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The 97-second flight test was the first fully integrated test of the Launch Abort System developed for Orion. “It was a big day for our exploration team,” said Doug Cooke, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Exploration following the test. “It looked flawless from my point of view. This is the first abort system the US has developed since Apollo, but it uses much more advanced technologies. It was a tremendous effort to get to this point, designing such a complex system, and we’ve been working on this for about 4 years. I appreciate the amount of dedication and focus from the team. It was beautiful, a tremendous team effort.”
Called Pad Abort-1, the $220 million Orion escape system test demonstrated how the crew module could be jettisoned in case of an emergency at the launch pad.
The proposed plan for NASA’s future human exploration is currently not quite clear, but President Barack Obama said in an April 15 speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle would be used as an emergency escape vehicle, or Crew Return Vehicle for the International Space Station.
Asked about how the NASA’s future exploration plans might play out, Cooke said, “We’re working on what the resolution is on the path forward, so that is yet to be seen. But all these types of tests are important because you want to test all the critical conditions for developing launch systems in the future. Getting the crew back after an abort is critical for any system.”
The abort system used a solid-fuel motor which generates about 500,000 pounds of thrust. The crew module — a dummy with some instrumentation– accelerated to about 725 kph (450 mph) in just 2.5 seconds with an acceleration of 16 G’s. The parachute system worked like a charm, returning the module at only 25 kph (16 mph), about 10 kph (6 mph) slower than predicted.