Launch Abort Motor on NASA's New Spaceship Passes Test

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. (Image credit: ATK)

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

Bart Olson, vice president and general manager for ATKTactical Propulsion and Controls, said the test, performed at the company?sfacility in Elkton, Md., is a major accomplishment for the LaunchAbort System team, led by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Orionprime contractor Lockheed Martin of Denver.

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

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

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

The Dec. 14 attitude control motor test is good news for Orionas Lockheed Martin gears up for the capsule?s first pad-abort test in lateJanuary or early February at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The 90-secondflight test, originally slated for September 2008, has been delayed severaltimes, due in part to technical problems associated with the Launch AbortSystem?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 thedetailed results. This was the sixth in a series of ground tests of Orion?sattitude control motor system, validating that the thruster system performs asdesigned, according to the news release.

Orion?s attitude control motor provides steering for theOrion launch abort system, which is designed to safely lift and steer the Orioncrew capsule away from Ares1 in the event of an emergency.

  • Image Gallery: NASA's New Spaceship
  • Video - NASA's Constellation Journey Begins: Part 1, Part 2
  • Mission: Ares 1-X


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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.