Launch Abort Motor on NASA's New Spaceship Passes Test
Eight high-powered thrusters fire 7,000 pounds of steering force during ATK’s Attitude Control Motor ground test.
Credit: ATK

WASHINGTON ? Alliant Techsystems (ATK) performed a successful ground test Dec. 14 of a full-scale attitude control motor for the launch abort system of NASA?s planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, according to company officials.

Bart Olson, vice president and general manager for ATK Tactical Propulsion and Controls, said the test, performed at the company?s facility in Elkton, Md., is a major accomplishment for the Launch Abort System team, led by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin of Denver.

Minneapolis-based ATK is supplying two of the Launch Abort System?s three propulsion systems.

?This successful milestone brings Constellation another step closer to flight-ready status and demonstrates progress toward improved flight safety for astronauts that is at the core of Constellation Program success,? Olson said in a Dec. 16 news release. Olson was referring to NASA?s five-year-old shuttle replacement effort, Constellation, which includes the Orion crew capsule and its Ares 1 launcher.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is currently mulling alternatives to Constellation, including scenarios that would scrap Ares 1 in favor of outsourcing space operations in low Earth orbit to the private sector. Although Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden met Dec. 16 to discuss various options for the agency?s human spaceflight activities and investments, details of a forthcoming presidential decision are not expected until the White House submits the 2011 federal budget request to Congress in February.

The Dec. 14 attitude control motor test is good news for Orion as Lockheed Martin gears up for the capsule?s first pad-abort test in late January or early February at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The 90-second flight test, originally slated for September 2008, has been delayed several times, due in part to technical problems associated with the Launch Abort System?s attitude control motor.

ATK said early indications are that the Dec. 14 test, dubbed ?Demonstration Motor 1? was successful and engineers are now analyzing the detailed results. This was the sixth in a series of ground tests of Orion?s attitude control motor system, validating that the thruster system performs as designed, according to the news release.

Orion?s attitude control motor provides steering for the Orion launch abort system, which is designed to safely lift and steer the Orion crew capsule away from Ares 1 in the event of an emergency.

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