NASA launches Orion crew capsule to test abort system

Orion moon capsule endures intense abort test over Space Coast

NASA on Tuesday appeared to successfully conduct a test of the emergency abort system of the spacecraft it hopes will eventually take astronauts to the moon, a key step as the agency attempts to meet an ambitious White House mandate to get astronauts to the lunar surface within five years.

NASA has conducted a full-up launch abort test for the Orion capsules created to carry astronauts to the moon.

In the test, which was carried live on NASA TV, an unmanned Orion capsule was launched by a mini-rocket - a repurposed first stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile. During AA-2, the booster will send the LAS and Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet at Mach 1.15 (more than 1,000 mph). When it gets safely away from the rocket, the golf tee capsule ejects the crew module and the test is over.

The test did not last long.

NASA, in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, is preparing to launch the Ascent Abort-2 mission on July 2 from Space Launch Complex-46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Today's test was to see if NASA's new deep-space crew capsule can still keep its crew safe, even when everything goes wrong. The stubby Peacekeeper missile looked nothing like a tall, brawny rocket-such as the Space Launch System or the Delta IV Heavy-capable of launching Orion into space. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule exploded on a test stand in April just before engineers test-fired its abort engines, triggering an investigation that could delay the pod's first crewed flight by several months. Orion's tower-like abort structure features two parts: a fairing assembly shell made with a lightweight material that protects it from the heat, air flow, and acoustics of the launch, ascent, and abort environments, and the launch abort tower that includes the abort motor, attitude control motor, and the jettison motor.

The test is meant to ensure that when the craft carrying humans ascends to space after launch, the abort system can pull the crew module away if there's an emergency. "The abort motor fired, the attitude control motor, the pressures were all first accounts it was a flawless test".

To provide an idea of the power involved, here's a snapshot of the test launch on Tuesday: 500,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff that provided the craft with a speed of 800 miles per hour.

The data sensors have beacons that will guide NASA to them for recovery and study.

"We're not expecting it to stay intact when it hits", Jenny Devolites, the Nasa test manager.

Although data flowed to the ground as expected, the test included 12 back-up data recorders (equipped with Global Positioning System trackers) which were ejected into the ocean in pairs as the capsule tumbled its way to an impressive, and destructive, meeting with the water. "The neat part is, the next time this full launch abort system flies there will be crew underneath it in Artemis 2".