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Alternate Astronaut Escape System to be Tested
July 7, 2009
 
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 is preparing to demonstrate an alternate escape system to explore different technological approaches to the same task. Simply put, the Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) is a risk mitigation effort on behalf of Orion. 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 Flight Profile 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. MLAS Objectives The MLAS project has several objectives. The first objective is to demonstrate an alternative launch abort concept that is feasible for all abort conditions and for nominal launch. The goal is to identify the simplest design that will satisfy launch abort requirements while maximizing nominal ascent performance.
Image showing four separate sections of MLAS vehicle.
While finishing touches are applied to the MLAS crew module, foreground, the lower sections of the MLAS test vehicle take shape in the background. The separation between the larger boost skirt and the coast skirt is the metallic strip seen just above the ladder.
While finishing touches are applied to the MLAS crew module, foreground, the lower sections of the MLAS test vehicle take shape in the background. The separation between the larger boost skirt and the coast skirt is the metallic strip seen just above the ladder.
The second objective is to evaluate the capability of MLAS to deliver the crew module to a sufficient altitude and downrange distance from the launch pad to allow for a safe landing. Another objective is to demonstrate proper MLAS pad abort initiation and event sequencing. This includes flying a stable trajectory, reorienting the MLAS vehicle, and separating and stabilizing the crew module simulator to the proper recovery condition. The project also features a landing parachute demonstrator (LPD) intended to demonstrate an alternative landing system configuration for crew module recovery. The LPD is based on the shuttle solid rocket booster recovery system and will collect data to help validate simulation tools and techniques for the Orion's parachute system development. The final MLAS objective is to obtain flight data that will be used to determine the structural loads and integrity of the system during all phases of flight. The data will help to characterize the aerodynamic environments experienced during the abort, fairing separation and reorientation, and will characterize separation dynamics between the system components. Partners The NASA Engineering and Safety Center, also known as NESC, 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 is located at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
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. Integration and launch will be conducted at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Similar activities were conducted at Wallops in 1959 with the development of the launch abort system for the Mercury space capsule. Numerous Wallops contractors will support this demonstration including Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, Computer Sciences Corporation, VT Griffin and Honeywell Technical Solutions, Inc.
View MLAS Simulation Video View Pictures

 

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Page Last Updated: September 18th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator