NASA completes a high-pressure test of its Orion spacecraft emergency motor

NASA has completed the final test of the attitude control motor for its Orion spacecraft, which is set to carry astronauts to the moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis project.

“On February 25, NASA successfully tested the attitude control motor (ACM), which is built by Northrop Grumman and provides steering for Orion’s LAS during an abort, at the company’s facility in Elkton, Maryland,” NASA said in a statement. “The 30-second hot fire was the third and final test to qualify the motor for human missions, beginning with Artemis II.

“During the test, eight high-pressure valves directed more than 7,000 pounds of thrust generated by the solid rocket motor in multiple directions while firing at freezing conditions, providing enough force to orient Orion and its crew for a safe landing.”

NASA's Orion capsule during its attitude control motor test.
NASA’s Orion capsule during its attitude control motor test. Northrop Grumman

The ACM is part of the launch abort system, which is the system designed to keep astronauts safe if something goes wrong during launch. The launch abort system has three separate solid rocket motors that perform different functions in the case of an emergency.

Firstly, there is the abort motor which propels the module containing the crew away from the launch vehicle, so that the crew can be moved safely away from the rocket if it looks like a problem could cause it to explore. Secondly, the attitude control motor, which is what was tested recently, steers the capsule to safety once it has been ejected and orients it to the right way up. Thirdly, the jettison motor is responsible for moving the entire system away from the spacecraft before the parachute is deployed to gently slow the capsule and allow it to land safely.

This is the latest in a series of safety tests performed on the launch abort system. In July last year, NASA completed an ascent abort test in which the motor systems were tested at an altitude of 31,000 feet. Other previous successful tests include a test of the propulsion systems which involved firing the engines for 12 minutes.

Before the abort motor can be approved for use in a crewed system, it must complete one more test. Then it should be ready for use in a project launch in 2021.

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