NASA Tests New Rocket and Parachute Systems

Image credit: NASA

NASA has tested out rocket engines and parachutes that could help astronauts escape from the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) if there’s a problem on the launch pad. The RS-88 engines, which would launch the astronauts away from the OSP, were fired 14 times for a total of 15 seconds of operation. The parachutes were tested at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds and verified that the four main and single drogue parachutes were working as expected. NASA has several Pad Abort Demonstration tests planned for the future, which should give astronauts a better chance of surviving if there’s a problem with the spacecraft.

NASA has tested rocket engines and parachutes that could be instrumental in developing the first spacecraft crew launch escape system in almost 30 years.

The tests pave the way for a series of integrated Pad Abort Demonstration (PAD) test flights to support NASA’s Orbital Space Plane (OSP) program. Launch pad abort tests support development of a system that could pull a crew safely away from danger during liftoff. Knowledge gained from the testing will reduce the future design and development risks of a launch escape system that could be used for the OSP.

“PAD is the first launch pad crew escape system NASA has developed since Apollo,” said Chuck Shaw, PAD Project Manager at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston. “The engine and parachute tests followed successful vehicle wind tunnel tests in September.”

The engines were fired in tests at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., in November and December. A series of 14 hot-fire tests of a 50,000-pound thrust RS-88 rocket engine were conducted, resulting in a total of 55 seconds of successful engine operation. The final test was completed Dec. 11. The engine is being designed and built by the Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power unit of The Boeing Company.

The parachutes were tested at the Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., Dec. 9. The tests verify the function, performance and stability of an 80-foot drogue parachute and four 156-foot main parachutes. A 12.5-ton pallet, simulating the size and weight of a crewed vehicle, was dropped from 10,000 feet. The pallet descended to a soft landing under almost two acres of parachutes. A second set of parachute tests will be conducted at Yuma in spring 2004.

Integrated launch abort demonstration tests in 2005 will use four RS-88 engines to separate a test vehicle from a test platform, simulating pulling a crewed vehicle away from an aborted launch. Four 156-foot parachutes will deploy and carry the vehicle to landing. Lockheed Martin Corporation is building the vehicle for the PAD tests. “The separate subsystem tests will allow NASA and Lockheed Martin to begin integration of the test vehicle, its engines and parachutes over the next year,” Shaw said.

Seven integrated PAD test flights are planned during 2005/06. For the initial PAD flight test in mid-2005, a representative crew escape module will be mounted on a pusher propulsion module. Instrumented mannequins will represent a spacecraft crew during the tests.

NASA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin in November 2002, to design and build a crew escape and survivability system demonstrator and to establish a flexible test bed for use in support of the OSP program.

The OSP program will support U.S. International Space Station requirements for crew transport, rescue and contingency cargo. The OSP will initially launch on an expendable vehicle and provide rescue capability for at least four crewmembers. OSP could launch as early as 2008. Crew transfer for the Station is planned as soon as practical, but no later than 2012. The PAD project is managed at JSC for the OSP Program. The OSP Program is managed at MSFC.

Original Source: NASA News Release