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Aerojet Rocketdyne tests Orion abort system jettison motor

Orion Launch Abort System NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully conducted a full-duration test of the solid-fueled rocket motor designed to jettison the launch abort system and separate it from the Orion spacecraft.

This 1.5-second test took place at the company’s Rancho Cordova, California, facility. It was conducted on the third development motor. The test helped provide performance data for Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Aerojet Rocketdyne performed a 1.5 second static fire of the jettison motor for the Orion Launch Abort System. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne performed a 1.5-second static fire of the jettison motor for the Orion Launch Abort System. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

“In today’s test, the jettison motor generated more than 45,000 pounds of thrust, which is roughly enough thrust to lift two school buses off the ground,” said Cheryl Rehm, Orion program manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne, in a release issued by the company. “Data from this test will be used to confirm our test objectives and ensure our readiness to begin manufacturing our qualification and production flight motors.”

Not to be confused with the abort motor that pulls the Orion crew vehicle from the launch vehicle, which would only be used in the event of an emergency, the jettison motor is a critical element of every flight.

In a nominal flight profile, the Launch Abort System (LAS) – along with the accompanying aerodynamic shell protecting Orion – will need to be detached from the spacecraft shortly after first stage separation, and it is the job of the jettison motor to accomplish this critical task.

Similarly, should a pad or in-flight abort be necessary, the jettison motor will be fired to pull the spent LAS assemblage away from the crewed vehicle. This crucial step provides the vital clearance needed so that the spacecraft’s parachutes can safely deploy prior to splashdown.

“Reliability of the jettison motor is critical to the safety and execution of the mission. Unlike other launch abort system motors, the jettison motor operates every time,” said Jim Paulsen, vice president of NASA programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, in a press release issued after the test. “Astronaut safety and reliability of our exploration systems is paramount at Aerojet Rocketdyne. EM-1 is the first integrated flight of Orion and the new heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, and Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion systems will be supporting the mission from liftoff to splashdown.”

This test was another step toward the launch of Orion on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), set to occur on the maiden flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). Currently scheduled to lift off in the latter half of 2018, EM-1 will send Orion into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon and return the vehicle to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The three-week journey should see Orion travel deeper into space than any crew-capable spacecraft to date and is a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

Although more than two years away, the launch of NASA’s mammoth rocket will be the culmination of years of design, engineering, and construction. During that span of time, its components will have been subjected to numerous virtual and real-world testing regimes. All of this is an effort to make sure the agency’s super-heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle will be as safe and reliable as is practical.

“The first crewed flight of the Orion spacecraft is just around the corner,” echoed Roger McNamara, Lockheed Martin Launch Abort System director, in a release issued after today’s test. “The Launch Abort System is such an important safety feature; it’s great to see progress happening across the country and right here in Sacramento.”

Video Courtesy of NASA Langley Research Center



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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