The CCtCAP customers have to do abort tests to satisfy the NASA Human rating standards.

Is Orion going to do a pad abort, and a Max-Q abort, like SpaceX is required to do?

Or is Orion being held to a different standard, since it is owned by NASA?

If the cost of an SLS booster is on the order of a billion dollars or two (launching once every 2-4 years, it cannot cost any less realistically just in standing army salaries), you can imagine why they would bend any rule to avoid spending that much money on a test.

I cannot imagine an Orion capsule is 'cheap' to 'waste' on an abort test either. But that sounds like an excuse, or else a massive failure, if CCtCAP is cheap enough to be willing to waste boosters and vehicles on tests, vs SLS where it is to valuable to test failure cases. Sort of like the Shuttle...


Orion has already had a pad abort test back when it was part of the Constellation program, in 2010. Pad Abort 1 has its own Wikipedia entry, strangely enough. Pad Abort 1 test was a test of the tractor-style launch abort system (which pulls the capsule with a small rocket mounted on top, a la Apollo). There was a proposed alternate launch abort system, called Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) (see the Wikipedia entry), a prototype of which was tested in 2009, that was meant to perform better at Max Q, but the whole thing was later dropped.

Additionally, according to Parabolic Arc magazine, "NASA intends to launch its Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Ascent Abort 2 test flight (AA‑2) from SLC-46 in 2018."

Info on AA-2.

So, the short answer is, Orion has already had a pad abort test, and NASA seems to be planning an actual (mid-flight) ascent abort test in 2018, prior to the first planned manned Orion flight sometime after 2020.

  • $\begingroup$ A pad abort test in 2010, for a first manned flight in 2019 at the earliest? At least the data is not stale. :) Nor has the program changed much in the interim. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Oct 6 '14 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ There is something wrong in the article I linked too. AA-2 will use a Peacekeeper upper stage to boost an Orion capsule to 47K feet. Problem is a Orion is almost 5m in diameter. BUt Peacekeepr missile is only 3m wide. That is a very large overhang. Also Orion is pretty darn heavy, difficult to believe a Peacekeeper missile first stage has sufficient thrust. Hmmm... $\endgroup$ – geoffc Oct 6 '14 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ The overhang isn't an issue - rockets are fitted with adapters all the time for payloads larger than the booster diameter (the recent Falcon 9 launch of an Orbcomm satellite, last month, is a good example). For that matter, Boeing's CST-100 capsule can be launched by an Atlas 5, also using an adapter, as the CST-100 is wider than the Atlas. As for using the upper stages of an MX missile (aka Peacekeeper), the Aerojet SR-119 rocket motor (the 2nd stage of MX) has > 300,000 pounds of thrust. Doesn't need to reach space - just 25k feet. $\endgroup$ – Kirkaiya Oct 6 '14 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ A 2 meter overhand is quite a bit. Atlas 5 is 3.8m wide. CST-100 is 4.5 m wide. 0.7m is about 2.1 feet. That is not much of an overhang. 2 meters is closer to 6 feet. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Oct 6 '14 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ The Falcon 9 has launched a 5.2 m payload, while the rocket itself is 3.66 meters, which isn't much more than the Peacekeeper-Orion difference. Also, even a 2-meter difference in diameter would result in 1 meter "overhang" (on each side), which really isn't much on a rocket that's 20 meters tall. $\endgroup$ – Kirkaiya Oct 6 '14 at 23:54

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