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NASA Readies Hardware for Test of Astronaut Escape System


HAMPTON, Va. - NASA has completed production of hardware for use in the first flight test of the astronaut escape system for the Constellation Program’s Orion crew capsule.

The hardware - a structure that simulates the Orion crew module - was designed and fabricated at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The structure represents the size, outer shape and mass characteristics of the space capsule being designed to transport astronauts first to the International Space Station then on to the moon by 2020.

The developmental flight test, called Pad Abort-1, will focus on the ability of Orion’s launch abort system to pull the crew capsule safely away from the launch vehicle in the event of problems on the launch pad or during the climb into orbit. Planned for late 2008, the test is the first in a series of uncrewed abort flight tests to demonstrate the new system. Subsequent flight tests, including tests on a rocket that will place the launch system in “worst-case” ascent conditions, will verify that the system can execute a safe, reliable method of escape for the crew.

The 16.4 foot wide capsule currently is undergoing verification tests at Langley, after which it will be shipped to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., for installation of flight computers, instrumentation and other electronics.

After assembly, integration and testing of all avionics and instruments needed to recover data from the test, Dryden will send the completed module to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. At White Sands, the hardware will be integrated with the Orion launch abort system.

During the developmental flight test sequence, the escape system’s main abort motor will fire for several seconds, rapidly lifting the simulated crew module from a test launch pad to an altitude of approximately one mile, after which the escape system will detach, and parachutes will deploy to slow the module for landing.

NASA plans two pad abort tests and three ascent abort tests at White Sands. Additionally, a parallel series of integrated Orion and Ares I rocket tests is planned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida beginning in spring of 2009.

Langley manages the launch abort system design and development effort with partners and team members from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Design and development of the Orion flight test article for the pad abort test is being led by the Flight Projects Directorate and Exploration and Space Operations Directorate at Langley on behalf of the Orion Project. The Orion Project Flight Test Office at Johnson will manage the tests.


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