The Abort Rocket Motor for NASA's Orion Spacecraft Just Aced a Big Test

Orion abort system motor test
Orbital ATK tested an abort system motor on May 1 for the Orion spacecraft, which is scheduled to carry astronauts into space at the head of the megarocket Space Launch System. (Image credit: Orbital ATK/YouTube)

Flanked by a forest view, a motor for the Orion spacecraft underwent a three-pronged fiery test ahead of being used for flights across the solar system.

Orbital ATK ran the abort system motor test successfully, the company announced yesterday (May 1). Footage from the test, whose location was not disclosed in a statement, showed fire emanating as planned from the motor before finishing with a puff of black smoke.

The attitude-control motor shown in the test is designed to steer the Orion spacecraft's crew module away from the launch vehicle if there is an emergency. Orion is a spacecraft NASA is developing to take crews away from Earth, to locations such as the moon's orbit or an asteroid.

"With the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System, NASA has taken up the challenge of not just opening up space exploration, but making it as safe as possible for our astronauts," Pat Nolan, vice president and general manager of the missile products division of Orbital ATK's defense systems group, said in a statement

Orbital ATK tested an abort system motor on May 1 for the Orion spacecraft, which is scheduled to carry astronauts into space at the head of the megarocket Space Launch System. (Image credit: Orbital ATK/YouTube)

"Orbital ATK is proud to support that vision with our innovative and reliable technology," he added. "The success of today's test brings us that much closer to seeing this vision realized."

The recent motor test is part of a series that is supposed to qualify the motor for the crewed flight missions. Orbital ATK is also producing the main launch abort motor that will propel the crew module away from the vehicle. 

The Orion spacecraft underwent an uncrewed test flight in 2014, called Exploration Flight Test 1. The motors will be tested during the second flight, dubbed Exploration Flight Test 2, that will test both Orion and the Space Launch System late next year. 

Recently, NASA said it is considering adding crew to the new test flight, which would loop around the moon before coming back to Earth.

"The study will examine the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space," NASA officials said in a statement in February.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: