Key test: NASA tests launch-abort system for moon-mission capsule

Orion moon capsule endures intense abort test over Space Coast

Orion test scheduled Tuesday morning from Cape Canaveral

The U.S. space agency NASA completed on Tuesday a safety test in the event of a botched launch for its Orion Spacecraft that will help land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

This will be one of a number of test conducted by NASA and its industry partners to prove that space systems meet the agency's requirements for certification to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

A test version of the Orion crew capsule launched at the beginning of a four-hour window that opened at 7 a.m. ET Tuesday.

As per NASA, the test, captured on film and available below, happened something like this: at an altitude of about six miles, high-stress aerodynamic conditions triggered the abort sequence, with the abort motor being fired to take the capsule away from the rocket. When Orion launches in 2024, parachutes will be used to slow descent and keep the capsule intact. The "stack" - the parts comprising the rocket, abort system and capsule - that launched is about 93 feet tall.

NASA was able to accelerate the test schedule and lower costs by simplifying the test spacecraft and eliminating parachutes and related systems. The crew module rests inside the tee and once the fairing is jettisoned, it rapidly accelerates away from the rocket booster, powering to 31,000 feet at around 1,000 miles per hour.

For astronauts strapping themselves on top of a rocket, good safety systems aren't just nice to have - they can save lives, and they have. 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. The launch-abort system is jettison 27 seconds later, and the Orion came back to Earth 3 minutes after lifting off.

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.

All of the data recorders have now been retrieved by boat.

Yesterday's test (video below) is in preparation for the upcoming Artemis missions, which will see US astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2024.

At a post-launch press briefing, NASA Ascent Abort-2 test director Don Reed said "ascent was nominal", although the rocket reached the point ("test box") where the abort was initiated 5 seconds early.

"We're not expecting it to stay intact when it hits", Jenny Devolites, the NASA test manager, said during the prelaunch briefing. From there the astronauts can use another vehicle to descend to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. The uncrewed flight tested the capsule's heat shield to determine the conditions the spacecraft would face when returning from deep-space missions.

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