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article imageOrion spacecraft’s launch abort system passes launch test

By Karen Graham     Jul 2, 2019 in Technology
NASA's Orion capsule aced a critical launch-abort test this morning (July 2), showing that it can indeed get astronauts out of harm's way during a liftoff emergency and keeping the craft on target for a first crewed flight in 2022.
"It looked beautiful from here," Ashley Tarpley, NASA's range flight safety lead for today's test, said during a NASA broadcast of the procedure, reports "I think that was excellent, we could not have hoped for a better kind of day. It's just wonderful."
Today's 3-minute test of the Orion launch abort system (LAS) - called Ascent Abort-2 - used a test version of the Orion crew capsule. It launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a modified Peacekeeper missile procured through the U.S. Air Force and built by Northrop Grumman.
The $256 million test appeared to go off without a hitch as the LAS kicked in at 53 seconds after launch - at an altitude of about 31,000 feet (9,450 meters) and pulled the 22,000-pound mockup of the Orion crew capsule safely away from its still-firing booster.
The LAS' abort motor fired, its 400,000 pounds of thrust pulling Orion up and away from the booster, imparting about 7 Gs of force. Here on Earth, we experience 1 G, thanks to our planet's gravitational pull. The crew capsule was traveling about 800 mph (1,300 km/h) and experiencing extreme temperatures and pressures, NASA officials said.
A model of the Orion capsule on display at the NASA exhibit at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado ...
A model of the Orion capsule on display at the NASA exhibit at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs
Jason Connolly, AFP
Its attitude control motor flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Actually, it was a hard hit on the ocean surface that more than likely destroyed the mockup crew capsule.
It was traveling at around 300 mph and there were no parachutes attached to slow its descent. Orion likely broke apart upon impact and sank to the ocean floor, NASA officials said. The real Orion crew capsule will have a parachute system and an attitude-control system during actual crewed flights.
When the crew capsule is launched aboard the Space Launch System rocket as part of the EM-2 mission, it will carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in almost 50 years, establishing a framework for the Deep Space Gateway and manned missions to Mars.
Data collected by 890 temperature, pressure, acoustic and other sensors was radioed back to Earth in real time, according to CBS News. As a backup, 12 small recorders, each one carrying a complete set of sensor data, were to be ejected two at a time during the plunge back to Earth. Equipped with radio beacons, the recorders are designed to float on the surface while waiting for recovery.
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