Orion Launch Abort System Validated
Dryden's Role in Space Exploration
Dryden’s expertise in atmospheric flight research and test provided significant progress toward the fulfillment of US space exploration. NASA’s Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), used a Launch Abort System (LAS) designed to propel the Crew Module (CM) and its crew safely from a launch pad or in-flight emergency.
The 500,000-pound-thrust abort motor rocketed the boilerplate crew module and launch abort stack away from launch pad 32E at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, near Los Cruces, N.M. Initial indications are that all systems for steering, separation, stabilization, parachute deployment and landing worked perfectly. The flight lasted about 135 seconds from launch until the crew module touchdown about a mile north of the launch pad.
The flight was the first fully integrated test of the launch abort system design. Information gathered in the test will help refine design and analysis for future launch abort systems, resulting in safer and more reliable crew escape capability during rocket launch emergencies.
The test involved three motors. An abort motor produced a momentary half-million pounds of thrust to propel the crew module away from the pad. It burned for about six seconds, with the highest impulse in the first 2.5 seconds. The crew module reached a speed of approximately 445 mph in the first three seconds, with a maximum velocity of 539 mph, in its upward trajectory to about 1.2 miles altitude.
The attitude control motor fired simultaneously with the abort motor and steered the vehicle using eight thrusters producing up to 7,000 pounds of thrust. It provided adjustable thrust to keep the crew module on a controlled flight path and reorient the vehicle as the abort system burned out.
The jettison motor, the only one of the three that would be used in all successful rocket launches, pulled the entire launch abort system away from the crew module and cleared the way for parachute deployment and landing. After explosive bolts fired and the jettison motor separated the system from the crew module, the recovery parachute system deployed. The three red-and-white main chutes guided the crew module to landing at 16.2 mph, or 24 feet per second.
The Orion project office at Johnson Space Center in Houston led the launch abort system test team. Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., designed and built the boilerplate crew module for the test, and Dryden prepared the crew module for integration and led the flight test vehicle integration at White Sands with Lockheed Martin Corp. of Denver, prime contractor to NASA for Orion.
Point of Contact
John F. Carter