With a budget battle looming and its Ares I rocket program all but dead, today NASA test-fired its $220 million Orion crew capsule, which it is currently repurposing into an escape vehicle, per President Obama’s new vision for NASA. Conducted at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the launch came off without a hitch, launching Orion more than a mile skyward before deploying parachutes and drifting back to the desert floor a mile from the launch site.
“Wow, that went like clockwork from what I can see,” said Jay Estes, NASA’s deputy manager of the Orion project office. “That’s an amazing test.”
Dubbed Pad Abort-1, the mission performed a series of tasks during the short flight, including mid-air reorientation and firing of all of its three solid propellant rocket motors. The primary motor hurls the crew quickly away from the pad, an attitude control motor keeps it on the proper orientation, and a jettison motor divorces the crew module from the rest of the abort system so the parachutes can deploy. All systems, at least at first look, appear to be go.
The system is designed to initiate crew abort in a split second should the crew be in danger on the launch pad or during early stages of ascent. But NASA also thinks the data gathered from the Orion tests will inform the design of future manned spacecraft.
Space.com has a great video on this morning’s launch and the nuts and bolts of the escape craft here.