NASA tests abort system on astronaut capsule built for moon missions

How will humans travel to deep space

The scene at Port Canaveral in Florida after NASA's test of the Orion capsule's launch abort system. Twelve data recorders popped off in bright orange canisters before impact, for ocean retrieval.

NASA was able to accelerate the test schedule and lower costs by simplifying the test spacecraft and eliminating parachutes and related systems. Following today's test, the next big hurdle is the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) - now Artemis 1- after the naming of the agency's new space program.

Nasa's partners to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, SpaceX and Boeing, have had problems with their abort systems - something that the space shuttle Challenger did not have when its booster rocket exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986, killing all on board.

It will be an uncrewed test created to replicate a real launch, but it won't be launched on top of the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's next-gen rocket, as is now planned for lunar missions.

"Everything looked really good", said Mark Kirasich, NASA's Orion program manager. With this exploration system created to safely carry humans farther into space than ever before, we'll also have an equally powerful launch abort system that will pull the crew away if there is a problem with the rocket during the early portion of ascent.

Ascent Abort Test-2 (AA-2) is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral during a 4-hr. window that opens at 7 a.m. EDT on July 2.

The crew module is connected at the bottom to a ring that simulates where the service module would attach, and at the top to the tower that includes the actual abort system engines.

"It looked lovely from here", Ashley Tarpley, NASA's range flight safety lead for today's test, said during a NASA broadcast of the procedure. This allowed the craft to reach 31,000 feet in 55 seconds. "Our Launch Abort System is a key safety feature of the spacecraft - it will protect the crew members who fly onboard Orion during the most challenging part of the mission, which is the ascent phase".


The Orion spacecraft on Monday before the test of its abort escape system.

After the primary abort motor burned out, the attitude control system, responding to guidance commands, flipped the Orion around into a tail-first orientation for the fall back toward Earth.

The launch abort system is made of four separate components.

A little over 20 seconds later, the jettison motor pulled the capsule away from the rocket.

The data sensors have beacons that will guide NASA to them for recovery and study. When Orion launches in 2024, parachutes will be used to slow descent and keep the capsule intact.

Instead of sending astronauts directly to the lunar surface, as was done during the Apollo era, NASA plans instead to first build an outpost in orbit around the moon, known as the Gateway.

"We are incredibly excited", said Jenny Devolites, Ascent Abort-2 crew module manager and test conductor.

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