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NE Live@Orion Pad Abort 1 Flight Test
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NE Live@Orion Pad Abort 1 Flight Test Transcript

Orion Pad Abort 1 Flight Test
- Jay Estes
- Rachel McCauley
- Heather McKay
- Amanda Cutright
- Cathy Bahm
- Tara Tveten
- Kristen Terry
- Matt Berry
- Wayne Hicks
- Cece White & Kiera Nesmith
- Davis Hackenberg
- Laurie Grindle
- Brent Cobleigh

Weather conditions were difficult for NASA EDGE, but the Orion Pad Abort 1 Flight Test Team knocked it out of the park. Of course, that doesn't capture the magnitude of their success. They really knocked three out of the park. We're talking three uniquely designed rocket systems coming together and executing flawlessly to delivering the Crew Module to safety. And after talking to many of the team members, it really makes sense. To a person, everyone seemed to understand just how critical it was to get each part right to make this new Launch Abort System keep our astronauts safe. Oh, and the test flight is really cool to watch, too. In fact, the only failure was the Co-Host's hairline.

Note to NASA: please include the NASA EDGE Vodcast production team in all future wind tunnel tests.



JACKY:An inside and outside look…

FRANKLIN: At all things NASA.

CHRIS: Coming up on the “Best of NE Live.”

BLAIR: Jay Estes, from the Orion Flight Test Office.

CHRIS: And Rachel McCauley, the LAS Attitude Control Motor Lead.

BLAIR: And 30 mph winds that nearly destroyed my receding hairline.

BLAIR: Very windy out here at White Sands. A very exciting day, we’re going to see the Orion Pad Abort-1 Test Launch today. Boy, conditions are tough.

CHRIS: They’re very tough. It’s very windy out here. We have the wind blowing directly in our face so please bear with us.

BLAIR: You can see the Orion Launch Abort system right there on pad.

CHRIS: Absolutely. In less than an hour…

BLAIR: Less than an hour.

CHRIS: It’s going to be launching. We’re very excited today. Jay Estes, who is the Deputy Project Manager at the Orion Flight Test Office… We had a chance to speak to him a couple weeks ago. Let’s go to Jay and learn exactly what’s going to happen today in less than an hour.

CHRIS: What’s going to happen once that Pad Abort-1 takes off?

JAY: It’s going to get out of here really fast. That capsule underneath has about 3 rocket motors stacked on top. The one nearest to it, right above the Adapter Cone, we call the Abort Motor. That’s the motor that lifts the entire vehicle up off the pad and gets it out of here really fast. It will get going at about Mach .6 in about 3 seconds.


JAY: Above that are two other motors, the jettison motor and an attitude control motor. About 10 seconds after it gets off the pad that motor has been firing all along but it begins a tip over, a reorientation of the capsule. It continues to tip over until the attitude control motor burns out. It will actually reorient the capsule, turn it around and get the heat shield forward. Then the jettison motor, the four, little nozzles will fire and pull the whole tower off the capsule. At that point the forward bay cover is going to fire two, little chutes out. It will be shoved away by some thrusters. Once that’s out of the way, there will be 2 drogue chutes that will come out to stabilize the capsule and get it heat shield forward. About 5 seconds after that those two chutes are cut loose. Then, 3 pilot chutes are fired. These are small chutes that are going to pull big parachutes out and take the bags off.

CHRIS: Wonderful. Now that’s a mile up and a mile down for this test?

JAY: That’s right. That vehicle right now is loaded with about 692 different sensors, that are going to measure temperature, speed, sound, stress on the vehicle. It’s going to tell us a whole lot about the environment. The main thing we’re worried about is that abort motor. It produces about 500,000 pounds of thrust right off the pad. This thing gets about 17 G’s right off the pad.

CHRIS: Oh, wow!

JAY: One of the reasons we keep the motor cool is to keep the acceleration down a little bit.

CHRIS: Okay.

JAY: But all those sensors are going to tell us the acoustics that the capsule is going to feel. We fired one of those statically on the ground. It told us a lot. It actually scared us a little bit because it was actually a little louder than what we thought, a little more acoustics. All the critical systems on board have to also survive. So, you need to know how the acoustics are on the outside. This test will give us a basis. Then we’ll know what to design to for the production vehicles.

CHRIS: The cool thing that I like about this particular Pad Abort-1 test is that this abort system is unlike any abort system we’ve ever tested.

JAY: That’s right.

CHRIS: We had one for Saturn but that was more of a passive system.

JAY: It was passive. It was very similar though. In fact, it looked much like this. If you look at the big abort nozzles we have on top of the Abort Motor, we call them reverse flow. That’s a new technology.

CHRIS: Okay.

JAY: The Apollo capsule had a big truss structure underneath with the nozzles down there. The truss structure was simply to get those nozzles away from the capsule.

CHRIS: Okay.

JAY: It didn’t have the active control. The thing that does for us, when they went with the passive design on Apollo, there were Black Zones in the abort scenario. With that active control up there, we can cover all those Black Zones and we can actually save weight too. Because, in order to keep a passive system stable you had to add a bunch of ballast up there.

CHRIS: What do you mean by Black Zones?

JAY: Black Zones would mean aborts where you’re not sure you can complete the maneuver successfully and save the crew.

CHRIS: Gotcha.

JAY: So a Black Zone is something you have to avoid.

CHRIS: You’ve been working on this project for several years now.

JAY: Yeah, about 4 ½ years.

CHRIS: What’s the feeling you have right now? You’re getting ready to launch. It’s about to go off any minute now.

JAY: The feeling is “finally.” We had to work through a lot of things, a lot of challenges. Everything you see out here, the gantry, the pad, the vehicle, and our integration facility over here, we put all that in place. We had to have all that in order to pull this off out here. It took us a long time to get the vehicle designed and agree what levels we had to design it to. Right now there is no data for this thing. Our vehicle is designed to be very sturdy. It’s a battleship design. Frankly, it’s difficult to know exactly what parts will survive and what won’t because we don’t know the environment.

CHRIS: Right. Jay, you’ve done a great job over the past 4½ years. I’ve been following you on this project. We look forward to launch.

JAY: Yeah, thanks. It’s going to be great.

CHRIS: Take us through the Attitude Control Motor because that’s the motor that’s going to be providing the direction for the Abort System, right?

RACHEL: Yes. There are two main functions. The first function is that we provide gas that is the energy that we use to control the ACM. We have a control system that controls the thrust. That’s the real challenge on the ACM, controlling thrust. This is the first for NASA to be using a solid rocket motor with these valves and this configuration. We’ve never used it in flight like this.

CHRIS: This is cutting edge technology at its best.

JACKY: Now this is all new technology. What information from the past have you used to create this?

RACHEL: ATK has used their expertise that they have had with some DOD rockets on controlling the thrust. We’ve used the control system on other types of systems before. Using gas generators is not something that is new to NASA. We have had pieces from different areas but the key is putting it all together. The system, in itself, is very complex.

CHRIS: What were some of the challenges over the past couple of years?

RACHEL: One of the main things that we have been focusing on is the valve. It’s very hard to get a valve to have that much flow for that long of a period with that high of a temp. You have to get some special materials to be able to handle that. It’s been really hard to find the right materials, and the right geometry to be able to handle those loads.

JACKY: What are the plans after today?

RACHEL: After today is to start getting ready for the production system. We have a lot of work to do that we’ve recognized with PA-1. It was a great pathfinder, helping us find some issues that we didn’t expect, and some issues we knew were coming. We had an opportunity to work those things out.

CHRIS: Are we using the same type of solid propellant for all three motors?

RACHEL: No, were not.

CHRIS: Okay. So each one has it’s own separate characteristics?

RACHEL: Yes. It’s own recipes.

CHRIS: It’s own recipes.

BLAIR: Well, you get a sense of the complexity of this kind of system when you hear that. Not only three different motors, three different types of fuel, it’s just very complex.

CHRIS: I bet you Rachel is the one in the oven turning the mixture.


BLAIR: I’m going to need some more fuel over here.

RACHEL: There are some really good guys that do that work. I’m not really precise as that. They do a really good job.


CHRIS: Coming up next on NE LIVE

BLAIR: A gaggle of engineers

CHRIS: And two inspiring astronauts Cece and Kiera. Wait, a gaggle?

BLAIR: What do you call a group of engineers? A pride?


The Abort motor is the motor on the bottom of the stack. It’s just above the crew module. It accelerates the vehicle from 0 to 450 mph in 2 ½ seconds. What the Launch Abort System would do is pull the crew capsule away in the event of any kind of emergency on the pad and pull them away to safety. There’s a lot of power out there. That Abort Motor has the equivalent power of about 25 top fueled dragsters. That’s pretty powerful. If you could turn that power into electrical energy, it could power 13,000 houses for an entire day.

FRANKLIN: 13,000 houses for an entire day, out of a 2 second burn.


That’s right. It’s a half a million pounds of thrust.

FRANKLIN: Guys, do you hear that?

CHRIS: 13,000 houses, Franklin?

FRANKLIN: 13,000 houses… power them for one day off of a 2 second burn.

CHRIS: That’s incredible.

BLAIR: I think the good news is it’s going to be quieter than what was happening outside my hotel room last night.


CHRIS: For those of you who don’t remember Amanda, Amanda was our Mass Properties engineer that we interviewed… jeez, it must have been a couple of years ago.

AMANDA: It’s been a couple of years ago, at least 2 years ago.

CHRIS: It was on our NE @ segment on the Orion Flight Test Article.

AMANDA: That’s right.

CHRIS: What have you been doing since then?

AMANDA: Still doing MASS properties. We’ve done more integration. Dryden did a lot of integration of the avionics; a lot of the CPAS system, the acoustic linkage. The ballast is installed now. We had to track everything as it was going along. Our whole team has done a really good job from everything to get this stack up of the Launch Abort Vehicle.

CHRIS: It’s your responsibility to make sure that vehicle weighs the right amount?

AMANDA: That’s right. Not just me, I have a whole team here.

CHRIS: Okay.

AMANDA: But yes, in the end I’m the lead signing the endorsement for “we’re good.”

BLAIR: You’re title is very interesting. I’m going to let you roll with that.

CATHY: PA-1 Deputy Integration Lead.

BLAIR: Okay, what does that mean?

CATHY: We work with all the different teams. We’ve got companies across the country, one in every time zone. We make sure everyone is talking to each other and getting the ball moving. Making sure we become one big team. It was a challenge but we got there.

BLAIR: It’s been a common theme throughout all these interviews we’ve had. It’s been all this integration. If all this integration is so difficult, why is it so spread out? Why spread it across so many entities because it seems like a massive challenge?

TARA: It is a massive challenge but by having a dispersed team you can pull on expertise and talent all across the country, to come together to build this amazing vehicle and what it is about to do.

CHRIS: What were some of the difficulties in putting the vehicle together?

KRISTEN:: Well, not everything fits the way you always want it to. Making it all fit was a bit of a challenge at times.

CHRIS: You’re just doing it sections at a time.

KRISTEN:: Yeah. We start with mating the Abort Motor to the Jettison Motor. We attach the Adapter Cone and then work forward from there.

CHRIS: How long does that process take to put it all together?

KRISTEN:: We’ve been out here for about a year.

CHRIS: Wow! So has it been a lot of fun?

KRISTEN:: It’s been a blast. It has been a lot of hard work but really rewarding. It’s great to see her up.

BLAIR: Is there a possibility that we could have a crew flying in this vehicle during this test?

MATT: Not this test, no.


MATT: We’ll have some goodies but we won’t have any.

BLAIR: Seriously, you’re an engineer. From your perspective what would it take from this standpoint to make it flight ready for someone like me?

MATT: We need a lot more in it. There’s no cushion in it right now also.

BLAIR: So, there has to be an air mattress or two? Something like that?

MATT: A bunny suit. You might as well be wrapped up in some foam for this one.

BLAIR: If I’m going to make an impact what a way to do it. Right?

MATT: Yep.

BLAIR: One thing that I’m noticing Wayne, it that you have the coolest outfit I’ve seen anyone wear out here so far at White Sands. What exactly do you do that you get to wear this cool suit?

WAYNE: I’m going to do the aerial observations on board the helicopter. So after the vehicle does its flight and the pieces land in the desert, we’ll get in the helicopter; launch it; orbit over the pieces and assess what we’re looking at as far as a scenario of condition of the items. Identify if there are any hazards so we can release a recovery team. And they can come out and pick up all the pieces.

CHRIS: If you recall when we first talked a couple years ago, we looked at the MASS Properties of that flight test article; Blair was actually in the crew module when you flew from Langley to Dryden.

BLAIR: [voice echoes] Chris, tell me you did not leave the hanger. [knocking] Ah, I wish I could remember Morris code.

CHRIS: I think he’s still in there.

BLAIR: I’m right here!

AMANDA: Oh gosh, what are we going to do about that?

CHRIS: [sighs]

AMANDA: That’s not going to be good for the recovery team.

CHRIS: If you know where Blair is, please let us know. We don’t want him to be a goner. Good luck on the test.

AMANDA: Thanks.

CHRIS: Yeah.


JACKY: Welcome back to NASA EDGE. We’re live at White Sands Missile Range.

BLAIR: Wait, wait, hold on. Yeah, it’s still windy.


JACKY: In case you couldn’t tell.

FRANKLIN: I had to literally take a knee to talk to my next guest. Cece, whose mom works on the Pad Abort Project, Cece, how old are you?

CECE: Six.

FRANKLIN: Is this your first launch?

CECE: I would say no. Yes.

FRANKLIN: What kind of launch have you been to before?

CECE: A shuttle. The shuttle was my first.

FRANKLIN: What did your mom tell you about what’s going to happen today?

CECE: She said it was going to be really cool.

FRANKLIN: You can’t wait to see it, huh?

CECE: Uh huh, I can’t wait to see it.

FRANKLIN: What do you want to be when you grow up?

CECE: I don’t know.

FRANKLIN: Do you want to be an engineer like your mom?

CECE: I’ve been thinking about it.

FRANKLIN: Your aunt works on this project. What did she tell you were going to see today?

KIERA: Some of what my aunt has worked on, the test and all that.

FRANKLIN: Okay. The Pad Abort test is going to go off. We’re going to see it rise up into the air, and the parachutes come out. Are you excited about seeing that?

KIERA: Yeah.

CHRIS: I have a question for you. Ask her if she wants to be a future NASA EDGE co-host.

FRANKLIN: I have a question from Chris. He wants to know if you want to be a future NASA EDGE co-host?

KIERA: I don’t know really.

FRANKLIN: She’s undecided.

BLAIR: Franklin, you’ll still have to take a knee when you shoot with me.


CHRIS: You’re in charge of the day-to-day operations there. What does that entail?

DAVIS: Pretty much everything that happens on the vehicle. There’s a group of mechanics and technicians. They do the integration. I’m in charge of making sure that goes everyday. Making sure the procedures that people talked about, the work orders, all the coordination for that happens and is in place; and that we have the right people on site.

CHRIS: Right.

DAVIS: We get the vehicle integrated and ready to fly.

CHRIS: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the past several years?

DAVIS: I think they’re going to hear this all over the place. It’s coordination. It’s a huge project, a lot of people, a lot of personalities. It’s just not easy to bring them all together. Things change day to day; project changes, the engineering changes. It’s always a challenge to bring it together and get it on the vehicle and something that is ready to fly.

CHRIS: We have a flight date coming up, so what are you going to be looking at on the day of flight? What’s going to be your role?

DAVIS: Day of flight will be getting the Pad primarily ready for flight. You saw today that we almost ended up with a big thermal protective cover on the LAS. We make sure we get that off. Make sure we get the sensors ready to go. Clear the Pad and make sure it’s organized and ready to fly… there’s nothing on it. We go in and sit through the mission; listen to that just like everybody else out here will be. When it lands out in the field about a mile downrange, we’ll go get it.

CHRIS: What kind of temperatures do you expect? I know we’re out here in the desert but what’s the temperature range here between day and night?

DAVIS: About 30 degrees temperature range. The hottest day in May is going to be about 99.


CHRIS: On deck, we have a Q & A session with

LAURIE: Grindle and Brent Cobleigh.

BLAIR: And of course, the big launch. Not going to spoil it for anybody but I hope it’s a big success.

CHRIS: We are T minus 4 minutes.


CHRIS: Less than 4 minutes away from launch. How excited are you guys?

LAURIE:: Pretty excited.

BRENT: It’s been a long road.

LAURIE:: Yeah.

BRENT: There has been a lot of people work a lot of years on this project.

CHRIS: What does it feel to finally see this launch? It’s only a minute and 40 seconds, correct?

LAURIE:: Right, but it’s behind me.

CHRIS: You work for so many years on a project just to see for a short amount of time. It’s the important data that you’re collecting out of this.

BRENT: Yeah.

LAURIE: and I work at Dryden Flight Research Center. Most of our work is surrounding airplanes. Typically we get a lot of flights. We get a lot more feedback on whether our experiments are working or not. When you have to wait for 4 years for a 90 second flight, it creates a lot of anxiety. We’re certainly anxious to see this go well.

BRENT: Whatever companies design systems to take humans into orbit, they’re going to need some kind of abort capability. I think this technology will transition to other companies in the future although their designs may be slightly different. A lot of companies will benefit from it.

CHRIS: The cool thing about this design is this is state of the art technology we’re seeing today.

BRENT: Absolutely. There are several things about this system that are improvements over what we did during the Apollo era. All of them together really give us the extra benefit to try to protect the astronauts during the assent.

BRENT: White Sands is a very special place. It’s a special facility in the United States for doing rocket testing. They have a range here that runs 100 miles long by 40 miles wide. You can do these rocket tests in a really safe the environment if the rocket should steer off course. In some cases the longer rockets, they’ll actually blow them up to make sure they stay within the range. In our case, our rocket doesn’t have enough energy to leave the range. So it’s safe to be here. The other reason we selected this is… This Pad Abort test we probably could have done in many different places but the follow-on test, the Assent Abort Test, we’re going to fly the vehicle up to above 100,000 feet and do aborts as if we were traveling to orbit. Those tests need a much bigger range. That’s the reason White Sands was selected.

LAURIE:: So the question about is there any risk to the public? Basically, they’ve chosen this area for us based on a lot of analysis that tells us how far the LAS could go if anything happens at all. So, this 4-mile radius is a clear zone. We’re all safe right here and so is everyone on the base.

LAURIE:: What we’ve been hearing while we’ve been sitting here is we’re still a “go” for launch. In spite of the wind we’re experiencing here, it’s really the wind at the launch site that matters. There are two types of wind that we’re worried about; the wind on the ground, the surface winds, and the winds aloft. Those are the two areas of the most concern, I guess, for us. But in both cases, we’re still a “go” for launch in spite of the wind we’re experiencing. We’re still in good shape.

CHRIS: We were really worried about the surface winds for this set here earlier today.

LAURIE:: Yeah.

CHRIS: Because, if you were here at 3:00 this morning, it was pretty bad.


BLAIR: With the status of the Constellation Program, why are we still doing this test? Or why is this test still important?

LAURIE:: Is that one mine?

BRENT: You start it and I’ll jump in.

LAURIE:: I was going to say that it picks right up on the answer Brent gave to his very first question about giving the data out to the commercial public. Basically, we will always need this information unless we want to just be satisfied here on the earth and not do any exploration of any kind. We’re going to need to know this kind of information and have this kind of data. It will enhance our technologies, and all of that. Independent of Constellation’s status, I think the information is good. The flight data is good and will help us for the future.

BLAIR: Is it fair to say that if Constellation hadn’t been cancelled, the technology is always useful whether the program is going on or not? We still need the data to move forward technologically.

LAURIE:: Yep, absolutely.

BRENT: Yeah, I think it’s probably a fair way to say we’re potentially delaying some of the human exploration but we’re certainly not ending it.

CHRIS: Right.

BRENT: The technology, we need to advance this. Now is the right time. We’re ready to go. This test has been planned for quite a long time. You certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stop this test, if we were ready to go.

CHRIS: You guys ready?


JACKY: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: This is great!

CHRIS: This will be cool. You see a live look at the Pad.

BLAIR: I’m so nervous.

CHRIS: Launch Complex 32E at White Sands.

JACKY: It’s amazing.

CHRIS: It’s a beautiful backdrop there. The skylines, it’s beautiful.

BLAIR: I can’t believe we’re actually this close to launch.


CHRIS: This reminds me of the Ares I-X flight test we saw back at Kennedy.


CHRIS: T-minus 1 minute.


CHRIS: T minus 1 minute.

BLAIR: Franklin, can you believe it?

FRANKLIN: Man, this is great. This is the first for me.

BLAIR: It’s the first for all of us for this. This is incredible.

FRANKLIN: You know what, I haven’t even seen a shuttle launch.

BLAIR: [sighing]

JACKY: I haven’t either.

CHRIS: You haven’t seen the shuttle launch?

FRANKLIN: I haven’t seen the shuttle launch.

BLAIR: We’ll have to make sure that happens. We’ll add one.

FRANKLIN: The Ares I-X was my first.

CHRIS: We’ll be down the for the last shuttle launch for the Live Show.

FRANKLIN: Absolutely.

JACKY: Everyone is just staring over there.

MISSON CONTROL: Mark, T-minus 30 seconds.

BLAIR: Oh man, this is so cool.

CHRIS: Even Brent is getting excited right now.

BLAIR: I’m so glad I have this platform to stand on.

CHRIS: I’ve never seen Brent so nervous in my entire life. Look at him. He’s shaking.

MISSION CONTROL: T-minus 10 seconds on my mark. Mark.

MISSION CONTROL: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Launch, launch, launch.

[Crowd cheering]




JACKY: Oh my goodness.

MISSION CONTROL: Rear rotation started. Rear rotation complete. Apogee.

[Crowd cheering]

CHRIS: Yeah! MISSION CONTROL: Drogue deployed. Drogue cut.


CHRIS: Yeah!

CHRIS: Look at that!

BLAIR: Yeah, all right!

[Laughing and cheering]

CHRIS: Oh wow. Nice. Chute is deployed.

[Crowd cheering]


CHRIS: Great job.

BLAIR: Yeah, all right! Look, it’s hanging there. It’s not descending. The winds are carrying it.

CHRIS: Are you sure you’re not in that capsule right now?

[Blair laughing]

FRANKLIN: A little CEV hang time.

BLAIR: It was cool; the different stages. Everybody is reacting to different…

JACKY: You knew it was going to happen.

BLAIR: Yeah, reacting at the different times.

CHRIS: And it just landed.


CHRIS: Perfect. Let’s go back.

BLAIR: All right!

CHRIS: Yeah.

[Cheering & clapping]

CHRIS: Wow, beautiful.


BLAIR: Wow. I’m still stunned actually.

JACKY: Even still, they’re still congratulating each other. They all know they played a role in that.

CHRIS: Yep. Well, this broadcast has come to an end. We want to thank you. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look…

JACKY & FRANKLIN: At all things NASA.

BLAIR: A little stereo action there.

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