Kennedy Space Center has received a critical piece of hardware in support of the Artemis II crewed mission. The launch abort motor for Orion’s Launch Abort System (LAS) arrived in Florida April 13 from Northrop Grumman in Promontory, Utah, and was transported to the Launch Abort System Facility where it will undergo testing in preparation for use on the second Artemis mission.
The launch abort motor is one of three motors on the LAS and is capable of producing about 400,000 pounds of thrust to steer and pull the crew module away from the rocket. The attitude control motor and the jettison motor complete the trio of motors responsible for controlling the LAS.
The LAS weighs about 16,000 pounds and is installed on top of the Orion crew module. It is designed to protect astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent. The system pulls the spacecraft away from a falling rocket and reorients the crew module to provide a safe landing for the crew.
Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon. Orion will launch atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket to carry astronauts to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. NASA will develop a sustainable presence at the Moon and apply knowledge gained to pave the way for human exploration of Mars.
With weather at 80 percent go for launch and everything proceeding as planned, optimism and enthusiasm were high at Monday morning’s Ascent Abort-2 flight test preview news conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“We are incredibly excited,” said Jenny Devolites, Ascent Abort-2 crew module manager and test conductor. “It’s such an honor to be a part of this activity and to have this opportunity.”
The Ascent Abort-2 flight test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, featuring a test version of the crew module, will lift off from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Tuesday, July 2. The four-hour launch window opens at 7 a.m. EDT. NASA TV will broadcast launch activities, starting at 6:40 a.m. 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.
“This test is extremely important,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager. “Our Launch Abort System is a key safety feature of the spacecraft — it will protect the crew members who fly onboard Orion during the most challenging part of the mission, which is the ascent phase.”
Ascent Abort-2 will verify Orion’s abort system can pull the crew module away from an emergency during its ascent to space. The two main objectives: execute the abort by demonstrating it can be completed end to end, and collect key data. There are approximately 900 sensors — including temperature sensors, pressure sensors and microphones —located throughout the vehicle.
At liftoff, the booster will provide about 500,000 pounds of thrust. It will take 55 seconds to ascend to 31,000 feet, traveling more than 800 mph, at which point the abort will be initiated and the abort motor will ignite. Also igniting will be the attitude control motor, which provides steering.
Twenty-seven seconds after the abort, the jettison motor will ignite, pulling away the Launch Abort System from the crew module. The crew module will then free-fall and descend back to the ocean. As a backup communication system, 12 ejectable data recorders eject into the water in pairs. The highest altitude reached will be about 45,000 feet.
“It’s certainly a very exciting test for us tomorrow because it is so important,” NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik said. “The neat part is the next time this whole Launch Abort System flies, there will be crew underneath it in Artemis 2.”
At an Orion Program Launch Readiness Review held June 28, the team preparing to launch Orion’s Ascent Abort-2 flight test gave a “go” to proceed to launch on Tuesday, July 2. Pending the outcome of a range readiness review to be held Monday, NASA is targeting the opening of a four-hour launch window at 7 a.m. EDT. Engineers will close out final operations at the launch pad over the weekend and on Monday to prepare for the test.
The Mobile Access Structure at Space Launch Complex 46 will be pulled back for the final time Tuesday morning before launch. Technicians had rolled it back earlier this week to perform end-to-end systems checkouts. The team also will temporarily pull it back on Monday to remove tape protecting sensors that will be used to collect data during the test.
NASA will hold an overview on the test at 11:30 a.m. Monday, which will air on NASA TV and the agency’s website.