Escape Rocket Motor for NASA Moon Ship Passes Test

Though NASA's moon program is slated forcancellation by President Barack Obama's 2011 budget, the agency is carrying ondeveloping moon vehicles for now, with an escape rocket motor for the agency?splanned Orion moon ship passing its second ground test.

NASA contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK),which built the solid propellant-powered motor, conducted the test Thursday atits facility in Elkton, Md.

It was the second of two successful groundtests for the full-scale attitude control motor (ACM), which is designed to steera launch abort system on the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The system is builtto carry an astronaut crew safely away from a malfunctioning rocket in the caseof an emergency during liftoff.

Orion is the crew capsule slated to fly atopthe Ares I rocket NASA planned to carry humans to the space station and themoon under the agency?s Constellation program.

That program was nixed in the Obamaadministration's new plan for NASA, which aims to encourageprivate industry to take up the task of ferrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit.Congress has yet to approve that proposal, but in the meantime the Constellation program is carrying on under thefully-funded 2010 budget.

The ACM includes a solid propellant gasgenerator with eight valves equally spaced around a three-foot diametercircular motor. In combination, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds ofsteering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the crewmodule.

The first ACM test was performed on December 15, 2009.

These motor tests pave the way for anupcoming pad abort test for the launch abort system, scheduled for sometimethis spring, to be conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Thattest will be the first Orion flight test.

"The success of this test, coupled withthe success of the first test last December, demonstrates again that crewsafety is an overriding priority in the design of the crew vehicles to be usedin future human exploration missions," said Bart Olson, interim President,ATK Mission Systems. "We are now ready for the next major milestone, a flightdemonstration."

ATK is also NASA?s main contractor for thetwin solid rocket boosters used to launch the agency?s space shuttles intoorbit. NASA currently plans to fly just four more shuttle missions this year tocomplete construction of the International Space Station before thethree-orbiter fleet is retired in the fall.

ATK test fired its last shuttle solidrocket booster at its proving ground in Promontory, Utah, in late February.

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