NASA successfully tests Orion abort system

The emergency system used powerful rocket motors to blast the crew module off the launch site on Thursday, shooting it 1.9 kilometres into the air in six seconds at high rates of speed, then wafting it back to Earth on a parachute.

"This system is much more advanced in capability and technology than any abort system designed in the past," said Doug Cooke, a NASA associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate based in Washington.

"NASA strives to make human spaceflight as safe as possible, and what we learnt here today will greatly contribute to that goal," he said in a statement after the launch.
The space agency said the test lasted 135 seconds from launch to touchdown 1.6 kilometres north of the launch pad at the US Army's White Sands Missile Range.

An abort motor, powered by three rockets, unleashed a half-million pounds of thrust to lift the craft at a rate of 720 kilometres per hour in the first three seconds.

Steering the module on its upward trajectory was a second motor that fired simultaneously with the abort motor, using eight thrusters to produced 7,000 pounds of thrust.

When the abort motor burned out, a third motor ignited to separate the module from the abort system before deploying a parachute.

NASA said it was the first US-designed abort system of its kind to be tested since the iconic Apollo generation space vehicles.

The Orion capsule, originally designed to take astronauts back to the moon, is a surviving component of the Constellation manned space exploration program cancelled by President Barack Obama in February for being behind schedule and over budget.

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