NASA is gearing up to test the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system (LAS).
The Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test is set to lift off from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral on July 2. AA-2 is a critical safety test for the spacecraft and one that NASA hope will pave the way for the country’s return to the Moon in 2024.
“AA-2 shows this workforce and the nation that we’re on the precipice of doing what Kennedy Space Center was built to do: processing and launching spaceflight hardware,” said Sean Arrieta, NASA EGS element operations manager in the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF). “It’s a foundation, a concrete stepping stone our program can stand on and say, ‘Look at what we’ve accomplished—and where we’re about to go.’”
The AA-2 test vehicle is comprised of a Northrop Grumman booster, a 10-tonne (22,000-pound) Orion test vehicle and a fully functional LAS. The booster will carry the test vehicle to an altitude of 9.5 kilometres (31,000 feet) at Mach 1.3. Once it reaches that altitude, the LAS reverse-flow motor will fire producing 1,779 kilonewtons of thrust (400,000 pounds of thrust) pulling the Orion spacecraft clear of the booster. Finally, the LAS jettison motor will fire allowing the spacecraft to deploy its parachutes and drift safely back to Earth.
In 2010, an earlier version of the LAS was tested successfully during Pad Abort Test-1 at White Sands Missle Range in New Mexico. Four years later in 2014, the spacecraft was launched aboard a Delta IV for its first uncrewed test flight. The spacecraft completed two orbits of Earth and returned to Earth safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
Following the successful completion of AA-2, the spacecraft will next be flown aboard the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in support of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission.