Orbital ATK signs agreement for production of Orion Launch Abort System
On July 7, Orbital ATK announced that it had entered into a $98 million agreement with Lockheed Martin to construct the Launch Abort System (LAS) for the Orion spacecraft that Lockheed Martin is building for NASA. This part of Orion will only be used in the event of an emergency, pulling crews to safety – an essential requirement as NASA works to send astronauts to distant destinations.
The primary goal of this arrangement is to finish the design, development, testing, and qualification of the LAS. Orbital ATK is required to conduct structural tests, loads tests, igniter open air tests, and motor static firing tests.
Orion has already taken to the skies once, with an inert LAS affixed to the top. In December 2014, NASA, Lockheed Martin, and United Launch Alliance sent a flight test article of the capsule-shaped spacecraft some 3,600 miles above the Earth. Shortly after leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the LAS was jettisoned.
“Orbital ATK is proud to be a key contributor to the Orion program and to astronaut safety,” said Orbital ATK’s Vice President of Propulsion Programs Fred Brasfield. “The benefit of using a solid launch abort motor is being able to transport the crew far from harm’s way in milliseconds, should the need arise.”
Perhaps of greater note is the view of another Orbital ATK representative, one who himself has traveled into orbit four times.
“As a former astronaut, I firmly believe in the need for a robust launch abort system. Orbital ATK’s launch abort motor greatly increases the level of safety for future crews,” said Orbital ATK’s Vice President and General Manager of Propulsion Systems Division Charlie Precourt.
The LAS is produced at Orbital ATK facilities in Magna, Promontory and Clearfield, Utah. Systems for both SLS and Orion are manufactured in 47 states. The device is used in the event of an emergency, pulling crews to safety during launch or ascent.
Orbital ATK will also carry out tests to validate the LAS design for actual flights into the black. The $98 million will pay for LAS to be produced for Orion through the flight of Exploration Mission 2.
The LAS’ second flight, AA-2 is currently slated to take place during GFY19. This test will serve to demonstrate the design’s ability to conduct a high-altitude abort.
Orbital ATK is also working with Lockheed Martin to produce the LAS’s attitude control motor. This development and testing will culminate in the Exploration Mission 1 test, currently slated to take to the skies in the 2018-2019 time frame.
“Orion has conducted successful tests with the launch abort motor,” Orbital ATK’s Kent Rominger said. “That system was designed to get the capsule away from an explosion, and designed to keep the crew away from the debris field – it does that. Liquid systems that have been demonstrated to date don’t quite do that. If you want the best protection to get the crew away from the stack, the solids have proven to ignite faster and work the best.”
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.