NASA has successfully demonstrated the Orion launch abort system’s ability to pull the spacecraft clear of a rocket in the event of an emergency.
“This test mimicked some of the most challenging conditions Orion will ever face should an emergency develop during the ascent phase of flight,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager. “Today, the team demonstrated our abort capabilities under these demanding conditions and put us one huge step closer to the first Artemis flight carrying people to the Moon.”
The Orion spacecraft with the launch abort tower installed was launched aboard a modified Peacemaker missile built by Northrop Grumman. It blasted off from Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:00 UTC this morning.
At an altitude of around 9.5 kilometres (6 miles), the abort system activated pulling the Orion spacecraft clear of the booster. According to NASA, the abort occurred 5 seconds ahead of schedule because the solid rocket booster used for the test was a “hot booster”.
Once the spacecraft was successfully pulled clear of the booster, the abort system’s attitude control motor then flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it. The tower jettison motor was then fired releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
The spacecraft was not equipped with parachutes for the test. To ensure all the data was recovered from the vehicle, 12 backup data recorders were ejected from the capsule during its descent. The data recorders were equipped with GPS and NASA has confirmed that all 12 were recovered successfully.
This morning’s in-flight abort test was the last flight test of the Orion abort system. However, NASA officials have confirmed that testing on individual motors that make up the abort system will continue into 2020.