As early as 2015, the Ares 1 rocket, carrying the Orion crew capsule, could replace the space shuttle. With more than two and a half times the interior space of Apollo-era crew capsules, Orion can deliver a crew of six to the International Space Station and up to four astronauts to the moon. And if something goes wrong within the first 300,000 feet of the rocket’s ascent, the Launch Abort System (LAS) will whisk the astronauts to safety.
Step one: The abort motor fires and generates 400,000 pounds of thrust, shooting the Orion capsule up and away from the rocket, reaching 450 mph in less than three seconds. The hot gas from the engine is forced through a 155-degree turn in the motor’s titanium manifold so that it exits through nozzles at the front of the motor, directed at an angle that keeps it from directly hitting the crew capsule. A fiberglass cover protects the capsule further.
After the abort motor burns out, the LAS coasts, guided by the attitude-control motor. The engine’s small nozzles, arranged in a ring around the LAS’s tip, fire according to an autonomous flight computer to reorient and steady the spacecraft. The attitude-control motor is capable of spinning the LAS around in any direction—whatever it takes to get it upright and steady in preparation for the next step.
About five seconds after the LAS reaches the proper orientation, a third motor fires to pull the spent abort system away from the crew capsule; explosive bolts separate the two. Parachutes deploy in three stages from the capsule to slow its descent to Earth. Ideally, the capsule will land in the ocean. If it hits solid ground, the Orion capsule will crumple to absorb the blow, and the astronauts’ shock-absorbing seats will keep them safe. Scared to death, but safe.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.