Come Checkout Constellation on the Move in Las Cruces,N.M.

A mockup of NASA’s nearly 45-foot long launch abort system (LAS) for the crew exploration vehicle, Orion, will be on display from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. CDT on Thursday, June 18 at New Mexico State University’s “horseshoe” area.


The Orion launch abort system on display in Nashville, TN. 


The system is being used to help NASA engineers prepare for the Pad Abort 1 test, which will take place in nearby White Sands Missile Range in November. When astronauts launch to the moon aboard the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the LAS will pull the crew and its module out of danger should a malfunction in the launch vehicle occur on the launch pad or during ascent atop the Ares I rocket. The 90-second Pad Abort 1 flight test will help gather information about how LAS operates in reality.


Other NASA exhibits include a large inflatable tent, handouts, a guest appearance by EVA, one of NASA’s inflatable astronauts, and models of its newest space vehicles, the Orion crew module and the Ares I and Ares V rockets. NASA’s Constellation Program is developing these vehicles, including the Altair lunar lander, to send humans to the International Space Station, moon and beyond after the shuttle retires in 2010.


A NASA inflatable tent exhibit on display in Austin, TX. 


Folks in the area are invited to catch a glimpse into NASA’s next steps in space exploration. We’ll have NASA employees there from Dryden Flight Research Center in California, Johnson Space Center in Texas, White Sands Test Facility and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The public events are part of the Las Cruces community event held in conjunction with the June 19 groundbreaking of Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.


For more information about NASA’s next steps in space exploration, visit: 


Constellation on the Move

NASA is one step closer to launching a flight test of the Constellation Program with Tuesday’s send-off of the Orion jettison motor, a solid rocket motor engineered for the launch abort system of the next-generation spacecraft Orion.


Built for NASA by Aerojet, the jettison motor was shipped from Sacramento, Calif. to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for the first test of the launch abort system, called Pad Abort-1. Orion’s abort system will be capable of pulling the crew module away from the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle within milliseconds in the event of an emergency on the pad or during the initial ascent phase.

jettison motor


The jettison motor, a key component of the launch abort system, is designed to separate the spacecraft’s abort system from the crew module after it is no longer needed during launch. A jettison motor function will be needed on every Orion mission.


“The delivery of the jettison motor is a significant milestone for the launch abort system program,” said Kevin Rivers, Orion launch abort system manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Delivering this rocket motor is a great reflection of the intense and focused work by the entire jettison motor team.”


The NASA Orion Project is managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. manages the Orion Launch Abort System element development and integration in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.


The components of the abort system are being delivered by Orbital Sciences Corporation, for Lockheed Martin Corporation, the prime contractor for Orion. Aerojet is the subcontractor responsible for the jettison motor.


NASA and Orion Industry Team Conduct Ground Test Firing


Tuesday NASA and the Orion Industry Team successfully test fired a sub-scale attitude control motor thruster for the launch abort system (LAS) of NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle.


Conducted at ATK’s facility in Elkton, Md., the ground test firing is a milestone in the development of the Orion spacecraft and brings the Constellation Program another step closer to flight-ready status.

The test, referred to as High Thrust-8 (HT-8), was the fifth in a series of ground demonstrations of Orion’s attitude control motor system. This ground firing validated that several flight-weight subsystems are performing as designed. The final tests will be of increasing complexity in preparation for the Pad Abort 1 flight test scheduled for later this year, which will test the launch abort system’s capabilities using a full-scale crew module mockup.

Orion’s attitude control motor will provide steering for the launch abort system. In combination with the abort motor under development by ATK, the attitude control motor is designed to safely lift and steer the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle, pulling the crew to safety in an emergency on the launch pad or during the initial ascent phase.  


The attitude control motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator, with eight proportional valves/nozzles equally spaced around the circumference of the three-foot diameter motor.  In combination, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the crew module.  The valves are controlled by a redundant power and control system.  This test demonstrated one of the flight-weight valves at full thrust and at maximum stressing load.

ATK is responsible for the attitude control motor through a contract to Orbital Sciences Corporation, who is responsible for delivering the LAS motors for Lockheed Martin, NASA’S prime contractor for Orion. The Orion Project is managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The launch abort system is managed out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center.  


Image Credit: ATK

Constellation on the Move

A full-scale mock-up of NASA’s Orion launch abort system began a week-long flatbed trailer ride across the country Tuesday, en route to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Once at White Sands, the rocket-like structure will help NASA prepare for this year’s abort system test, called Pad Abort 1.

During its journey, the LAS pathfinder will break from the drive to visit museums along the way. Museum visits include:

* Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, March 4
* Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7
* Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo, Texas, on Sunday, March 8
* New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, N.M., on Monday, March 9

For more about the launch abort system pathfinder and updates during the road trip, visit: 

Heading Toward White Sands

A full-scale mock-up of NASA’s Orion crew module was loaded into the mouth of a C-17 cargo plane Tuesday and took flight Wednesday morning. The mock-up, referred to as the crew module pathfinder, is headed towards White Sands Missile Range, where it will support NASA’s test of the abort system, called Pad Abort 1.


Designed and fabricated at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., the structure represents the size, outer shape and specific mass characteristics of the Orion crew module.


Scheduled to arrive at White Sands on Friday, March 13, the crew module pathfinder will be used to help prepare for the Pad Abort 1 flight test. Ground crews will practice lifting and stacking the pathfinder on the launch pad, an activity that will prepare them to handle the actual Orion flight test article for Pad Abort 1.


The 90-second flight for Pad Abort 1 will be an important first step toward demonstrating how NASA is building safety into its next generation of spacecraft and will help gather information about how NASA’s newly-developed launch abort system operates in reality. The system will provide a safe escape route for astronauts in the Orion crew capsule if there is a problem on the launch pad or during ascent into low Earth orbit atop the Ares I rocket.



Here’s a picture of the mockup of the Orion launch abort system sitting in front of the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. It will be there today and tomorrow, and it will then head to Amarillo, Texas, later this weekend. Our teams on the ground tell us there are busloads of school kids and visitors stopping by to see the mockup, so if you are in the Oklahoma City area, stop on by and say hello.

What Does It Mean to 'Human Rate' a Rocket?


A lot of people have asked what it means to “human rate” a rocket — to put people on top of a rocket and send them into space.  How does an agency like NASA take on this challenge?  And what considerations do engineers give human rating as they design Ares to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015 and for future trips to the moon and beyond?

In a nutshell, human-rating a rocket means that we take our understanding of how the rocket can fail to a higher level of fidelity (than for a non-human rated rocket), and then take steps to prevent failures or have it fail in such a way that the crew can survive the failure (e.g. crew abort).

For NASA, the Ares I rocket is being designed from the outset to fly humans as its primary role vs. modifying an existing system.

To get a little deeper into the subject, I talked with some senior NASA Marshall Space Flight Center engineers, Neil Otte and Gary Langford, who work this challenge for NASA and here’s how they explain it:

Let’s clearly define some of the primary human rated attributes and what they mean. First, human safety is the measure of risk of injury, or loss of life, to any spaceflight personnel. NASA’s policy is to protect the health and safety of humans involved in or exposed to space activities, specifically the public, crew, passengers, and ground personnel. Specifically human rating is involved with the risk to the flight crew. Risks to ground crew and the public are covered under other NASA policy directives and are inherent in all missions regardless of the presence of a flight crew.

A human-rated system accommodates human needs, effectively utilizes human capabilities, controls hazards and manages safety risks associated with human spaceflight, and provides, to the maximum extent practical, the capability to safely recover the crew from hazardous situations. This statement makes up the basic three tenets of human rating:  assuring the total system can safely conduct the mission, incorporate design features that accommodate human interaction with the system, and incorporate design features and capabilities to enable safe recovery of the crew from hazardous situations.

Simply put, human rating is a thorough process that consists of many variables being taken into account to safely design, build and launch a crewed spacecraft and return that spacecraft, and its crew safely to the earth. The process begins at program inception and continues throughout the life cycle of the program and includes: design and development; test and verification; program management and control; flight readiness certification; mission operations; sustaining engineering; maintenance, upgrades, and disposal.

We can now look closer at human rating. The first tenet is to safely conduct the planned mission. To accomplish this requires a very careful design. This design is accomplished by a careful examination of the hazards and design features that prevent the hazard known as hazard controls. In the design, the first step would be to try eliminating the hazard; if that is not possible then hazard controls can be put into place to prevent the occurrence of the hazard. Hazard controls can take many forms such as failure tolerance by incorporating redundant or backup systems and components, application of system margins to assure function of the system even under the most extreme conditions, and quality assurance from early material and component selection through final assembly and checkout operations. If applied to a simple example of say a home heating system, the hazard would be that the house is too cold for the health and safety of the occupants. Moving to a warmer climate, however, could eliminate the hazard, if not possible then hazard controls are put into place. Use of redundant systems or components can be applied.  For example, many heat pump systems have backup electrical or gas systems to provide heat in the event of a compressor failure or the inability of the compressor to meet the needed heat requirements. The system is carefully sized to provide adequate heat under the most extreme expected winter temperatures for the local climate, and the equipment manufacturer and the installation contractor control quality.  

For the Ares I rocket the foundations of the first basic tenet in developing a human rated system have been carefully laid out. Factors such as hazard elimination and hazard controls have been carefully thought out and placed as requirements in the system design. In addition, program management and control places additional requirements on the development to assure adequate system margins, proper test and verification, and safety and mission assurance practices to further minimize the risk to the flight crew.

Even with all the care that goes into the system design and development, the system design must accommodate failure. Sometimes failure is dealt with by simple redundancy that allows mission continuation. In some cases, however, mission continuation is no longer possible and steps must be taken to safely return the crew. For the example of the house, for extreme cold and total system failure, the occupants could choose to leave, go stay with family or friends, or stay in a hotel until repairs are made. In short you remove the humans from the hazard. Ares accomplishes this by incorporation of the launch abort system (LAS). The LAS allows the spacecraft to be lifted away from a failing launch vehicle and allows for spacecraft reentry and rescue of the crew by search and rescue forces.

Launch of a crew to low earth orbit is an energetic process that inherently has significant associated risk. The process of human rating attempts to eliminate hazards, control the hazards that remain, and provide for crew survival even in the presence of failures that expose the crew to the hazards. The Ares Projects team was assigned the task of designing a launch vehicle capable of carrying the Orion crew exploration vehicle, with a crew of four to six astronauts, to the International Space Station AND later support lunar missions.  NASA’s top priority is to design and build a vehicle that supports the crew with the safest design possible given real external constraints. The Ares design is a culmination of years of studying the best attributes for a human rated launch system. Every aspect of human rating has been taken into account in the Ares design, therefore the Ares I rocket will be fully human rated, something only achieved by a small fraction of launch vehicles.

The Ares I rocket is three years into its development process and has successfully passed every major design review. Ares is being designed with human rating in mind as the primary requirement vs. modifying an existing rocket. Human rating has been an integral part of the Ares I development since day one.