Think back on your favorite movies about astronauts and space travel: The dramatic launch countdown, the billowing plumes and flames as the rocket engines fire up and the vehicle lifts off, the rumble and roar inside the crew capsule. A launch is dramatic not only because of its breathtaking spectacle, but also because it’s one of the most complex parts of flight – and one of the most likely places for something to go wrong.
In real life, NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) research scientists, at the agency’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, are producing highly detailed simulations and visualizations to help keep astronauts safe during the dynamic liftoff conditions of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will send humans to the Moon and potential future destinations, and return them safely back to Earth.
The NAS scientists’ advanced simulation techniques are being used to predict vibrations on the Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort Vehicle (LAV). The LAV is the combined configuration of the Orion launch abort system and crew module. The LAV is designed to pull the crew away from peril if an emergency occurs on the launch pad or during the first two minutes of flight.
This visualization supports the Orion LAV motor design effort, a collaboration between NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin. It shows an ascent abort scenario that is triggered as the vehicle is traveling at close to the speed of sound. The video starts at abort initiation with motor ignition.
The video slows down when the pressure and air flow conditions are particularly harsh. Colored plumes indicate high pressure (red) and low pressure (blue). Each pixel changing from blue to red (and vice versa) over time is related to pressure waves that cause vibrations on the vehicle (white). Regions where the color changes abruptly in space, but stays constant in time, indicate the presence of shock waves.
These simulations of Orion’s pad abort and ascent abort scenarios, run on the Pleiades supercomputer, are directly impacting the spacecraft’s design to increase astronaut safety and reduce uncertainty while keeping cost and launch abort vehicle weight down.
For more technical information about the Orion launch abort simulations, visit:
Media contact: Kimberly Minafra, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley