Successful Test for Orion Launch Abort System

Article written: 6 May , 2010
Updated: 22 Jan , 2016
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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.

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12 Responses

  1. Mister T says

    16 G’s !!!!!!!

    Is that even survivable??

  2. ND says

    I believe when the soyuz had that recent issues during reentry, the occupants experience close to 10Gs of force, higher that it was supposed to be in a normal reentry. I think above that there is the danger of retinal detachment.

    But then again, you want to get away from the malfunctioning (ie exploding) rocket as fast and soon as you can.

    I wonder what the Gs would be when the abort system kicks in from a rocket in motion.

    Also, the abort systems on the soviet N1 moon rocket all activated during the catastrophic unmanned test launches.

  3. ND says

    Also, this was a dummy capsule. Does this mean it was lighter than the real thing?

  4. Sili says

    Let’s hope we’ll never need it.

    I couldn’t even see it take off. One moment it’s there, the next nothing but smoke.

  5. Richard Kirk says

    Not comfortable but surviveable. Have a look at…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stapp

    This guy pulled more than 45G. Mind you, this guy had top down in an aircraft at 570 mph.

  6. Nancy Drew says

    Capsule is meant to land on water.If it does land on land it will have air bags to cushion the landing.I hope Obama will bring this program back.The “life boat” that Obama has “ordered” is a good idea, and it should be an option.But, this capsule will do the job to take humans to the international space station.It will also have the capacity to go to the moon and Mars if we ever go down that road.The space shuttle was “sexy” so to say, but it had no abort system.But,this vehicle will be safer for the crew.

  7. Maxwell says

    If I was launch control, I’d have shouted “LETS BLOW THIS POPSICLE STAND!” right before pushing the button. The launch was damn near instant. I think the Ares I was intended to have below 8G’s on launch so this should be enough to get clear.

    Personally I suspect the fear of Ares I ripping open after launch was more to kill the use of SRB’s than for any actual hope of escaping a detonating booster.
    Thinking back to Challenger, by the time anyone or any mechanism has noticed a problem the whole stack will blow and no amount of acceleration will get you away in time.

    This kind of thing is to escape pad fires or get clear of the rocket if the second stage doesn’t start. They could probably have done just as well with a less beefy motor or ejection seats.

    I suppose its a good thing that safety is no longer an overriding concern with the new direction they’ve taken at NASA. Adequately sized abort towers are very heavy things.

  8. Astrofiend says

    Damn! That thing moves off with purpose!

  9. tek_604 says

    Love this part of the article: “This is the first abort system the US has developed since Apollo”.

    Also like this quote from the wiki, regarding the Shuttle: “No abort options exist from the ignition of the SRBs until their burnout 123 seconds later”

    I am pleased development of a launch system based on firework technology has now stopped.

  10. SpaceNinja says

    I though this was getting cancelled? Glad it works.

  11. Nancy Drew says

    Yes, I hope it stays “alive” in the budget!!!….what budget????

  12. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    That part would presumably not be used even if an Orion light will become an ISS reentry rescue vehicle.

    Is that even survivable??

    Sure, the rocket sleds used to test high-g survivability IIRC pulled up to 40 g momentarily. It will get you blue eyes and other tissue damages, prolonged acceleration will knock you out, but it is survivable for short periods. [I note in posting that this was what the Stapp article is about.]

    Acceleration survivability is more an issue of applying acceleration evenly. A fetus enveloped in liquid is said to survive 1000s or 10 000s of g in falls in that way.

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