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Critical rocket escape system motor for NASA's Orion spacecraft aces final test

NASA's Orion spacecraft has achieved a new milestone with a successful final test of the vehicle's attitude-control motor (ACM) Tuesday (Feb. 25). 

Orion is designed to carry astronauts to the moon for NASA's planned 2024 Artemis mission. The ACM steers and orients Orion's launch-abort system, which would carry the crew to safety in the event of an emergency during launch or ascent. 

The ACM was built by Northrop Grumman and was tested at the company's facility in Maryland. The 30-second hot fire was the third and final test of the motor, qualifying the motor for human missions. Those flights will start with Artemis II, the first planned crewed mission of the Orion spacecraft, according to a statement from NASA. 

Related: Home on the moon: How to build a lunar colony 

NASA and Northrop Grumman tested Orion's attitude-control motor on Feb. 25, 2020.

NASA and Northrop Grumman tested Orion's attitude-control motor on Feb. 25, 2020. (Image credit: NASA)

"During the test, eight high-pressure valves directed more than 7,000 pounds [3,175 kilograms] of thrust generated by the solid rocket motor in multiple directions while firing at freezing conditions, providing enough force to orient Orion and its crew for a safe landing," NASA officials said in the statement

Orion's launch-abort system uses three solid-propellant rocket motors, including the ACM, the abort motor that separates the crew module from the launch vehicle and the jettison motor that separates the launch-abort system from Orion to ensure a safe crew landing. 

All three motors need to pass a series of tests to ensure crew safety. So far, NASA has qualified the jettison motor and completed two of the three tests needed to qualify the abort motor. 

In addition, a full-stress test of the launch-abort system demonstrated that the three motors worked together as planned. NASA also tested the system as a whole to ensure that the motors will work if there's a problem on the pad before the rocket launches, according to the statement.  

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