The First manned Orion mission took another step closer to reality this week as Orbital ATK, in partnership with NASA and Lockheed Martin, completed a successful static ground test of the abort rocket motor for the Orion capsule's Launch Abort System (LAS). On June 15 at Orbital ATK's test facility in Promontory, Utah, the Qualification Motor-1 (QM-1) test shot flames a hundred feet into the air, confirming that the motor can respond in milliseconds to an emergency and withstand high temperatures.

The Launch Abort Motor is the key component of the LAS, which is designed to carry the Orion capsule and its crew to safety in the event of a launch pad or early flight emergency. It consists of a composite bell fitted over the crew capsule topped with a rocket tower similar to the one used on the Apollo Moon missions, but it's much more sophisticated with a new attitude control system and jettison motor.


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The Launch Abort Motor is a high-impulse rocket standing over 17 ft (5.2 m) tall and 3 ft (1 m) in diameter. The solid rocket motor burns three to four times as fast as motors of the same size, generating a thrust of 400,000 lb in under three seconds. This is enough to lift 26 elephants off the ground or to accelerate the Orion spacecraft at 10 g's to a speed of 400 to 500 mph (645 to 800 km/h) in two seconds, sending it to an altitude of 300,000 ft (91,000 m) in the event of launch pad emergency, from which it would return to Earth by parachute.

In Thursday's test, the motor was mounted upside down with its four exhaust nozzles pointing upwards. The engine responded according to specifications and burned for five seconds. The results of the test are currently undergoing analysis and if no anomalies are found, the next phase will be the QM-2 test firing in Utah next year followed by the 2019 Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

"We at Orbital ATK are very proud to work with NASA and Lockheed Martin on the Orion Launch Abort System, and to provide a motor that is so integral to astronaut safety," says Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK's Propulsion Systems Division and former NASA astronaut. "The importance of our crews' safety and well-being can't be stressed enough."

The video below shows the fireworks of the motor test.

Source: Orbital ATK

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