The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has embarked on a program for exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This program, Constellation, includes the design, construction, testing, and implementation of the Orion project. An integral part of the Orion project is a Launch Abort System (LAS). The LAS would provide a mechanism for the Crew Module (CM) to rapidly separate from the launch vehicle and safely return astronauts to Earth in the event of an emergency during launch pad or ascent operations.
To accomplish this portion of the Constellation program, NASA is proposing flight testing at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) at Launch Complex (LC)-32. This series of non-crewed pad abort and ascent abort tests would evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed LAS to safely return astronauts.
This Environmental Assessment (EA) addresses the potential impacts associated with proposed actions at LC-32, which includes the construction of new facilities to support LAS testing. NASA and WSMR representatives would collaboratively design and construct a launch facility for LAS testing at the preferred location of LC-32.
The two reasonable alternatives are: 1) an alternative location at WSMR; and 2) the no action alternative. Alternative launch site locations at WSMR include, but are not limited to, the Dog Site, LC-33, LC-50, LER-4, and the Small Missile Range. Other WSMR locations may also be considered. All alternative locations meet the same testing and safety requirements as needed at LC-32. The proposed and alternative sites allow for flight distance requirements, skilled personnel, existing infrastructure, and operational support, and are remote locations on WSMR that would not pose a threat to public safety; although, the use of the alternative WSMR launch complexes other than LC-32 could impact the overall schedule of the LAS test activities. Due to their current use and locations, airspace and scheduling would require more effort at the alternative sites. In addition, the LAS tests would not be considered a top priority and the LAS test launches would have to accommodate the schedules of other test programs at those launch sites. The no action alternative would include no new facilities, structures, or launch testing operations at WSMR and would prevent any environmental impacts associated with the construction of a new launch pad and impacts associated with LAS test activities.