NASA tests launch-abort system for moon-mission capsule

Beyond launching the abort system, the ACM will also orient the capsule for parachute deployment.

Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.

The Orion crew capsule, almost identical to the model slated to carry astronauts as soon as 2022 atop NASA's Space Launch System, was lofted more than eight miles (13 km) atop a ballistic missile test booster from an Air Force station in Florida at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) before firing its three abort thrusters, which would be used to jettison astronauts to safety in the event of a rocket failure. "It was really special for the program; a really big step forward to us", Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich said during a post-launch briefing from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday.

"It had been 35 years since anyone on the planet had had to exercise their launch abort system", NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik told reporters Monday.

"This test is extremely important", Kirasich said. "With this exploration system created to safely carry humans farther into space than ever before, we'll also have an equally powerful launch abort system that will pull the crew away if there is a problem with the rocket during the early portion of ascent".

Russian Soyuz capsule - MS10 rocket spun out of control - abort system pulled astronauts out before the rocket broke apart.

The capsule fell into the water and - after ejecting its black box recorders - was allowed to sink.

Scarcely a minute after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the abort motor fired, pulling the capsule from the booster around 6 miles (10 kilometers) up. Then, the abort was initiated, causing the abort motor and attitude control motor, which provides steering, to ignite.

The launch was created to provide data about how LAS worked during the test.

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Timing must be precise; for the test data to be valid, the abort event must match the requirements to the millisecond.

The LAS contains a fairing assembly and the launch abort tower. The "stack" - the parts comprising the rocket, abort system and capsule - that launched is about 93 feet tall.

Abort system consists of three solid rocket motor, one that jettisons the pod, one to control altitude and one that pushed Orion clear of the falling rocket.

For the upcoming test, the space agency will use an Orion test article that closely mimics the real thing.

The capsule was empty for the morning demo, which authorities said appeared to be successful.

'Because the test is created to evaluate Orion's launch abort capabilities, the crew module used for AA-2 will not deploy parachutes after the abort system is jettisoned, nor will it have a reaction control system with thrusters needed to help orient the capsule for a parachute-assisted descent and splashdown after the LAS is jettisoned'.

The space agency's Artemis program aims to meet the deadline through three missions.

A follow-up assessment detailed this week suggests scheduling issues could force further delay, up to June 2020 - but for now, officials say they're targeting December 2019, as the "majority of work" is on track.

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