The 46,000-pound flight test article that will be used for a test of Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) was lifted and mated to its transportation pallet inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 18, 2019. The flight test article includes the Orion test article, a separation ring created for this test, and the LAS. This operation marks the completion of the flight test article integration and checkout operations necessary for NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test scheduled for July. Next, the system will roll to Pad 46 where the team will be stacking all the AA-2 elements together at the launch pad over the next several weeks.
AA-2 will demonstrate the abort system can activate, steer the spacecraft, and carry astronauts to a safe distance if an emergency arises during Orion’s climb to orbit as the spacecraft faces the greatest aerodynamic pressure during ascent. AA-2 is an important test to verify Orion’s design to safely carry astronauts on deep space missions as NASA works to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.
During the three-minute test, the LAS with the Orion test article will launch atop a booster from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, to an altitude of about six miles and traveling at more than 1,000 mph. The abort motor will quickly whisk the crew module away from the booster, and the attitude control motor will maneuver the assembly into position to jettison the crew module. Test data from 890 sensors will be sent in real-time to ground sites as well as recorded on board by 12 data recorders. The 12 data recorders will eject from the crew module before Orion reaches the water and will be retrieved after the test.
With no astronauts on board, the test concludes after the data recorders are ejected and does not include parachutes or recovery of the test capsule. AA-2 is focused on testing Orion’s ability to abort during ascent, and NASA has already fully qualified the parachute system for flights with crew through an extensive series of 17 developmental tests and 8 qualification tests completed at the end of 2018.
The LAS was designed and built by NASA and Lockheed Martin with motors provided by Northrop Grumman and Aerojet Rocketdyne. NASA’s Orion and Exploration Ground Systems programs, contractors Jacob’s, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, in conjunction with the Air Force Space and Missile Center’s Launch Operations branch and the 45th Space Wing will perform flight operations for AA-2.