Northrop Grumman, along with NASA and Lockheed Martin, successfully completed its third and final qualification test of the Attitude Control Motor (ACM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft Launch Abort System (LAS).
The 30-second hot fire was the third and final test to qualify the motor for NASA’s future human missions, beginning with Artemis II. The test was conducted on Feb. 25 at the company’s facility in Elkton, Maryland.
The test, performed under cold operating conditions, complemented the earlier tests conducted at nominal and high-temperature conditions. In an effort to demonstrate worst-case conditions, the motor was ignited using one of the two initiators and simulated high altitude vacuum conditions.
During the test, eight high pressure valves directed more than 7,000 pounds of thrust generated by the solid rocket motor (SRM) in multiple directions while firing at freezing conditions, providing enough force to orient Orion and its crew for a safe landing. All eight high thrust valves operated nominally over the 35 second motor burn time.
Northrop Grumman is responsible for the LAS ACM through a contract with Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for Orion.
“The qualification test is a critical step toward Artemis II, Orion’s first flight with astronauts,” said Pat Nolan, vice president, missile products, Northrop Grumman. “Completion of this milestone emphasizes Northrop Grumman’s commitment to deliver innovative and reliable technology that will keep our astronauts safe during launch.”
The LAS system is designed to carry astronauts inside the spacecraft to safety if an emergency arises on the launch pad or during Orion’s climb to orbit. In the unlikely event of an abort, the attitude control motor would steer the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle. The ACM also orients the capsule for parachute deployment once the crew module is clear of all hazards.
Orion’s LAS consists of three solid rocket motors: the abort motor pulls the crew module away from the launch vehicle; the ACM steers and orients the capsule; then the jettison motor ignites to separate the LAS from Orion prior to parachute deployment and to ensure a safe crew landing.
Last year, NASA demonstrated the LAS in a full-stress test known as Ascent Abort-2. During the test, a booster sent a representative Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet to demonstrate the motors system worked as planned during the point of launch when the spacecraft experiences the greatest aerodynamic forces. In 2010, NASA tested the LAS’ functionality in Pad Abort-1, a test that showed the motors can work if there’s a problem on the pad before the rocket launches. These tests serve to assess and refine many of the systems critical to the safety of astronauts who will travel in Orion.
NASA has qualified the jettison motor, and has completed two of the three tests to qualify the abort motor. All three motors on the LAS will be qualified for crewed flights following the final abort motor test ahead of Artemis II.
NASA is working to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. Orion is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Gateway in orbit around the Moon. Orion will sustain astronauts in deep space, provide emergency abort capability, and support a safe re-entry from lunar return velocities.