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A critical segment of Orion's Launch Abort System, the launch abort motor, recently arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1. Built by Alliant Techsystems (ATK), the abort motor will be used to pull the crew to safety and position the module for a safe landing in case of an emergency during future missions. The other segments of the Launch Abort System are the fairing, the jettison motor and the attitude control motor.
They will be assembled together horizontally in the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) beginning in April. To prepare for EFT-1, the system will be attached to the top of the Orion crew module in the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, Fla., for the flight test, scheduled for September 2014. During a media viewing of the launch abort motor, Brian Duffy, vice president and program manager for Exploration Systems with ATK Aerospace Group, said it is a one-of-a-kind piece of hardware that is uniquely engineered. The motor is loaded with inert solid fuel because EFT-1 will be an uncrewed flight test. While only the jettison motor will be active during the 2014 test to enable the entire system to detach from Orion during ascent, the system will provide aerodynamics and environmental loads data.
"In the future, crews aboard the spacecraft are going to feel very comfortable with the abort motor and the entire abort system," said Duffy, who is a four-time space shuttle mission crew member. "From the time the crew is on the launch pad, until they're in part of the flight profile, and they no longer need an abort system, they'll have this system on board," Duffy said. "And when it's no longer required it will be jettisoned and won't be reused." According to Duffy, the abort motor is designed to ignite at the top end, away from where it is attached to Orion for thermal and acoustic reasons and to protect the integrity of the crew module.
The unique design of the attitude control system features a reverse flow and the half-million pounds of thrust would turn the 28,000-pound crew module about 180 degrees so that it would re-enter Earth's atmosphere with the heat shield facing down. Duffy said if the motor was fired at the launch pad to escape a bad situation, it would actually extract Orion and move it about a mile in the air and a mile downrange so that it could reorient before its parachutes deploy. "The crew would have the means to reach the ground safely from the time they get in the spacecraft," Duffy said. "It's a very smart and capable system."
For EFT-1, NASA will collect the data on the environment that the spacecraft, including the abort system, will experience during its ascent. It will be instrumented for data, Duffy said, even though there will be no humans aboard. EFT-1 will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. NASA's Space Launch System, currently in development, will launch future Orion spacecraft with an active launch abort motor and system atop.