NASA successfully demonstrated the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system can outrun a speeding rocket and pull astronauts to safety during an emergency during launch. During the approximately three-minute test, called Ascent Abort-2, a test version of the Orion crew module launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a modified Peacekeeper missile procured through the U.S. Air Force and built by Northrop Grumman.
The Orion test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of about six miles, at which point it experienced high-stress aerodynamic conditions expected during ascent. The abort sequence triggered and, within milliseconds, the abort motor fired to pull the crew module away from the rocket. Its attitude control motor flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
A team is collecting the 12 data recorders that were ejected during the test capsule’s descent. Analysis of the information will provide insight into the abort system’s performance.
A postlaunch briefing will be held approximately two hours after launch reviewing initial insights from the test data. Audio of this briefing will stream live on the agency’s website.
The test is another milestone in the agency’s preparation for Artemis missions to the Moon that will lead to astronaut missions to Mars.
The Ascent Abort-2 flight test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, featuring a test version of the crew module, is scheduled to lift off this morning from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Follow on the AA-2 Launch Blog.
The four-hour launch window opens at 7 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will broadcast launch activities, starting at 6:40 a.m. Updates also can be found on this blog. A postlaunch briefing is scheduled for approximately two hours after launch. Audio of this briefing will stream live on the agency’s website.
Orion will help pave the way for Artemis missions with astronauts to the Moon and then Mars.
NASA will host a preview news conference for the Ascent Abort-2 flight test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft at 11:30 a.m. Monday, July 1, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flight test will help pave the way for Artemis missions with astronauts to the Moon and then Mars.
The launch and preview news conference will air on NASA TV and the agency’s website. Participants include:
Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager
Jenny Devolites, Ascent Abort-2 test conductor
Randy Bresnik, NASA astronaut
The blog will feature highlights from the preview news conference.
The AA-2 flight test’s four-hour launch window opens at 7 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 2. A test version of the crew module will launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:40 a.m.
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.
Even the toughest vehicles need regular maintenance to function at their best. Recently, William Vardaman and Pat Brown, both working under the Jacobs contracting team, performed engine maintenance on NASA’s crawler-transporter 2 in the crawler yard located in the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 area in Florida.
The massive, tracked vehicles are powered by large electrical power engines and two 16-cylinder American Locomotive Company (ALCO) engines. Vardaman and Brown, both mechanical technicians supporting the agency’s Test and Operations Support Contract, spent several days rebuilding the vehicle’s fuel pump assemblies on both ALCO engines. They also installed new oil pumps that will lubricate the ALCOs from the top down before they’re started, minimizing future wear.
This is one of two crawler-transporters that carried rockets and spacecraft, including the Apollo/Saturn V and space shuttle, from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad. Now, they’re getting ready for NASA’s accelerated return to the Moon.
Crawler-transporter 2 has been modified and upgraded to carry the mobile launcher and NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, topped by the Orion spacecraft, for Exploration Mission-1, which will launch in 2020. The agency’s Exploration Ground Systems oversaw extensive upgrades to crawler-transporter 2, including new generators, gear assemblies, roller bearings and brakes, as well as the hydraulic jacking, equalization and leveling (JEL) cylinders that keep its carrying surface level.
Last fall, crawler-transporter 2 carried the newly completed mobile launcher from its construction site north of the VAB, out to Launch Pad 39B, then into the VAB, where the mobile launcher continues extensive testing. The crawler is gearing up for another move of the mobile launcher back to the pad later this spring for more testing.
Launch Abort System, or LAS, motors are being assembled and checked out at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for an upcoming test for the Orion spacecraft designed to send astronauts on trips to the Moon, and support human exploration to Mars.
Orion is designed to launch atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will take astronauts into deep space. Before flying astronauts, the Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test will help verify that the LAS can pull astronauts to safety in the event of a problem during launch.
The crew escape system will be attached to the top of the spacecraft.
According to Carlos Garcia of Orion Production Operations at Kennedy there are three motors on the LAS- the abort, attitude control and jettison motors. The abort motor can propel the crew module away from the rocket in milliseconds should there be an issue with SLS on the pad or during launch. The attitude control motor would steer the spacecraft during the maneuver. The jettison motor will pull the LAS away from the crew module, allowing Orion’s parachutes to deploy with the spacecraft safely landing in the ocean.
The abort and jettison motors for the test arrived on Aug. 27 and Sept. 10, 2018 respectively, and the attitude control motor was delivered Dec. 15.
“As the motor segments come in, we align and mate them to the motor truss assembly,” Garcia said. “We’re working on the electrical connections now.”
“Once the LAS assembly and checkout are complete, we’ll do a soft mate to the Orion crew module mock-up,” Garcia said. “That test will help us make sure everything is working as intended.”
For AA-2, a test version of Orion equipped with 284 sensors will launch atop a booster provided by Northrop Grumman from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The test booster is being processed in the space center’s Vehicle Assembly Building and later will be transported to SLC 46.
“After the LAS is mated to Orion, the combination will be moved to the Cape for mating to the booster,” Garcia said.
Targeted for May 2019, AA-2 will test an LAS abort under the highest aerodynamic loads it would experience in flight. The booster will accelerate to 31,000 feet, traveling at more than 1,000 miles an hour. The LAS abort motor then will ignite, pulling the crew module away from the booster.
The jettison motor separates the LAS from the crew module. The AA-2 test will conclude as data recorders are jettisoned for retrieval in the Atlantic Ocean.
The third and final aeroshell, at left, for Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) is in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building on July 12, 2018, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after its arrival from EMF Inc. on nearby Merritt Island. In the photo above, technicians prepare the aeroshell to be lifted off of the flatbed truck and transferred to slats. All three aeroshells will be stacked and prepared for a full-stress test of the LAS, called Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test, scheduled for April 2019.
During the test, a booster will launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a fully functional LAS and a 22,000-pound Orion test vehicle to an altitude of 31,000 feet and traveling at more than 1,000 miles per hour. The test will verify the LAS can steer the crew module and astronauts aboard to safety in the event of an issue with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during a rapid climb into space.
NASA’s Orion is being prepared for its first integrated uncrewed flight atop the SLS on Exploration Mission-1.
NASA’s Recovery Team from Kennedy Space Center just finished a week at sea, testing and improving their processes and ground support hardware to recover astronauts in the Orion capsule once they splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Aboard the USS Anchorage, NASA and the U.S. Navy worked together to run through different sea conditions, time of day and equipment scenarios—putting hardware and the people through their paces.
Astronaut Stephen Bowen was aboard as an observer to better understand the recovery procedures and to offer an astronaut’s perspective. As a former Navy captain, Bowen has a wealth of knowledge to impart to the team—helping them better understand what the crew will be going through as they are bobbing up and down in the capsule after spending time in microgravity.
“I understand what it’s like to be on a boat that doesn’t have a keel (a structural beam that runs in the middle from bow to stern to give it stability) in the open ocean,” Bowen said. “It’s not necessarily the friendliest of places to be.” And add that to the physical manifestations of re-entering a gravity environment after several weeks, Bowen’s first-hand knowledge will be paramount for the team as they hone their plans to make recovery smooth.
During the weeklong testing, the team made strides in developing the final recovery plan and even shaved 15 minutes off their best time. “When the astronauts return to Earth, we are required to retrieve them within two hours,” said NASA Recovery Director Melissa Jones, “but our goal is to get to them as quickly and safely as possible—we are shooting for half that time.”
The team still has several tests scheduled between now and Orion’s first uncrewed flight atop the new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1. The mission will pave the way for future crewed missions and enable future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. During the flight, Orion will travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon before splashing down into the Pacific, where NASA’s Recovery Team will be ready and waiting for her.
When astronauts depart for missions to deep space, they will cross the Crew Access Arm about 300 feet above the ground to board their spacecraft. The access arm was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 17, 2017, to install on the mobile launcher in preparation for the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, and the Orion spacecraft.
The SLS will be the largest rocket in the world and will be stacked with Orion inside the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on the mobile launcher and rolled out to the pad prior to launch. The access arm will be one of 11 connection points to the rocket and spacecraft from the tower on the mobile launcher. After technicians install the arm, the mobile launcher will be rolled into the VAB for validation and verification tests.
For the first launch without crew, the access arm will provide a bridge to Orion for personnel and equipment entering the spacecraft during processing and prelaunch integrated testing while in the VAB and at the launch site. The arm is made up of two major components: the truss assembly and the environmental enclosure, or the white room. The arm will provide entry and emergency egress for astronauts and technicians into the Orion spacecraft. On future human missions, astronauts outfitted with newly designed space suits will enter the white room, where they will be assisted by technicians into the spacecraft for launch. The arm will retract before launch, and the other connections will release at liftoff, allowing the rocket and spacecraft to safely clear the launch pad.
The Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical (CSFSU) recently was installed on the tower of the mobile launcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to prepare for the first launch of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft atop.
The mobile launcher tower will be equipped with a number of lines, called umbilicals, which will connect to the SLS and Orion spacecraft and provide commodities during processing and preparation for launch of Exploration Mission-1.
Cranes and rigging were used to lift the CSFSU and install it at about the 220-foot-level on the tower. The CSFSU will swing into position to provide connections to the core stage forward skirt of the SLS rocket, and then swing away before launch. Its main purpose is to provide conditioned air and gaseous nitrogen to the SLS core stage forward skirt cavity.