Mission Update: MLAS launched at 6:26 a.m. on July 8, 2009. The launch was a complete success.
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    Mission Information
    The NASA Constellation Program is developing an astronaut escape system for its Orion spacecraft, designed to carry humans to the International Space Station by 2015 and to the lunar surface by 2020. In a parallel effort, another NASA team, led by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), is preparing to demonstrate an alternate escape system to explore different technological approaches to the same task.

    The alternate escape system is called Max Launch Abort System (MLAS). MLAS was named after Maxime (Max) Faget, a Mercury-era pioneer. Faget was the designer of the Project Mercury Capsule and holder of the patent for the “Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device,” which is commonly known as the escape tower.

    While the Orion launch abort system has a single solid launch abort motor in a tower positioned above the Orion Crew Module, the MLAS concept for an operational vehicle would have four or more solid rocket motors attached inside a bullet-shaped composite fairing. Both are designed to propel the crew module and associated fairing from the Ares I Rocket in event of a launch emergency.

    Test Vehicle Information
    The MLAS demonstration vehicle consists of a full-scaled composite fairing, a full-scaled crew module simulator and four solid rocket abort motors mounted in the boost skirt with motor mass simulators in the forward fairing. The pad abort test doesn’t actually begin until the seven second mark at burnout of the solid motors. Test points of interest are demonstration of unpowered flight along a stable trajectory, MLAS vehicle reorientation and stabilization, followed by crew module simulator separation from the MLAS fairing, stabilization and parachute recovery of the crew module simulator.

    Because the MLAS flight test vehicle was not optimized for weight and parachute performance, there may be recontact between the elements of the test vehicle after the parachutes are fully deployed and after all the required data is collected. If recontact does occur it will not affect the MLAS test objectives, nor will it apply to Orion -- as the MLAS design and hardware are not representative of the current Orion design.

    The MLAS flight test vehicle weighs over 45,000 lbs and is over 33 feet tall.

    The NASA Engineering and Safety Center is located at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. It is an independently funded NASA program that uses a dedicated team of technical experts from across the NASA centers and beyond to provide objective engineering and safety assessments of critical, high risk projects.

    The NESC has several partners in the MLAS effort. Northrop Grumman Corporation is supporting NESC’s work to develop and conduct this demonstration. The company produced the MLAS fairing in their composites manufacturing facility in Gulfport, Miss.
    Personnel based in Wallops Island, Va. will conduct structures and mechanism assembly as well as flight test support. A Northrop Grumman subcontractor Ensign Bickford Aerospace and Defense, Simsbury, Conn. will provide the pyrotechnic separation system mechanisms required. Jacobs Technology, Tullahoma, Tenn., and partner Airborne Systems, Santa Ana, Calif., are providing landing systems design and support, to include the coast skirt separation drogue parachute, the two forward fairing reorientation drogue parachutes and the two crew module drogue parachutes.

    Launch Information
    The MLAS test vehicle launch is set for the morning of July 8, 2009. The window opens at 6:15 a.m.

    Viewing the Launch
    The launch will be visible in local Wallops area. Locally, the NASA Visitor Center on Va. Route 175 will be open to view the launch.

    Information for Invited Guests
    Launch guests have been sent revised invitations and are asked to respond as requested. In order to gain access to the guest viewing site, you must be on the approved guest list. Your RSVP will ensure you are placed on the list.

    For those with NASA issued identification badges please bring your badge to gain entry on to Wallops Flight Facility. For those who do not have a NASA issued badge, identify this on your RSVP so a temporary access badge can be made for you. Allow sufficient time to pick up your temporary badge when planning your arrival time the morning of the launch. Temporary badges may be picked up at the security office located next to the main gate.

    On the day of launch, please arrive at the Wallops Flight Facility auditorium, building E-100, by 4:00am. Signs from the main gate to the auditorium will direct your way. Check in with the guest operations personnel upon your arrival. A short briefing on MLAS will be provided. Buses will then transport all guests from the auditorium to the viewing site. The buses will return to the auditorium immediately after the launch.

    During this time of year and especially at the scheduled launch time, the Wallops area is home to a number of flying insects – mosquitoes, gnats, etc. – that can quickly become nuisances. While the viewing site is a great location to watch the launch, it is also prime habitat for the insects. Please plan accordingly.

    Launch Status
    Prior to the start of the countdown on launch day, updates on the status of the launch will be provided on this web page and on the Wallops launch status line at 757-824-2050.
    On the day of the launch updates will be provided on the status line and radio station 760 AM, which has a range of about 5 miles from the NASA Visitor Center.
    Countdown status also will be available during the countdown on Twitter at

    Contact Information
    For information about the launch, contact Rebecca Powell (757-824-1139) or Keith Henry (757-864-6120).

Related Links

    Members of the media, please contact:

    Rebecca Powell
    (757) 824-1139

    Keith Henry

    Keith Koehler
    (757) 824-1579