Spaceflight Insider

Launch abort motor case for Orion passes crucial test

NASA Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System Flight Profile NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Artist’s depiction of the Launch Abort System for NASA’s Space Launch System. Image Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK announced on MondayFeb. 29, that it had successfully conducted a structural qualification test of the abort motor case that the company is manufacturing for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The test was conducted on January 26 at Orbital ATK’s facility in Clearfield, Utah. The motor is a crucial part of Orion’s Launch Abort System, which is designed to ensure the safety of astronauts flying on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). 

Successful testing of the Motor Structural Test (MST-1) case is an important step on the path to qualifying the abort motor production design. Motor qualification tests demonstrate that the abort motor can perform under the extreme speed, temperatures, and G-forces of a crew rescue.

“We are proud to be a vital part of Orion’s Launch Abort System,” said Fred Brasfield, Vice President of NASA Programs for Orbital ATK via a release. “This unique abort system safety feature is similar to an ejection seat found in a fighter jet. If an emergency were to arise at the pad, or during launch and ascent, the abort system would lift the capsule and crew safely away from the rocket.”

Launch Abort System for Space Launch System NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: NASA

During the qualification test, the case withstood axial tension and compression loads in excess of a half million pounds, as well as simultaneous side loads. The loads applied to the case during testing exceeded those that would be applied during a launch abort scenario.

“A little over a year ago, our inert abort motor flew on the first flight test of Orion,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division, and four-time space shuttle astronaut. “Now, with this test and other abort motor milestones, we’re moving even closer to the first SLS flights that will lay the foundation for NASA’s journey to Mars.”

MST-1 is just one of a series of full-scale structural qualification tests. It will be followed by Case Test (CST-1). This test is planned for next week at the Clearfield, Utah, facility.

“The CT-1 tests include a pre-test hydrostatic acceptance test, life cycle tests with axial loads and internal pressure, a pressurized qualification test with axial and side loads, and a post-test acceptance test,” Steve Sara, Orbital ATK Program Manager for Launch Abort Motor told SpaceFlight Insider.

Following fabrication and acceptance testing, Orbital ATK will transfer the abort motor cases to its Magna, Utah facility for propellant casting and assembly.

“These qualification tests are significant milestones for the abort motor showing progress for the Orion program and another step closer to deep space missions,” Precourt said.

SLS is scheduled to launch the Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), late in 2018. Upcoming milestones for SLS include Aerojet Rocketdyne’s series of hot fire tests of the RS-25 flight engine at NASA’s Stennis Flight Center and Orbital ATK’s second five-segment rocket motor qualification static test, which is scheduled for this summer. Boeing is currently building core stage flight hardware at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and Lockheed Martin is currently testing and assembling the EM-1 crew  module at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Orion Launch Abort System infographic information sheet NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

NASA infographic that highlights the various components used on the Launch Abort System. Image Credit: NASA




Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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