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NASA's Orion crew capsule aces big safety test

By Mike Wall
July 02, 2019, 12:18:29 PM EDT

The Orion capsule aced a critical launch-abort test this morning (July 2), showing that it can indeed get astronauts out of harm's way during a liftoff emergency and keeping the craft on target for a first crewed flight in 2022.

"It looked beautiful from here," Ashley Tarpley, NASA's range flight safety lead for today's test, said during a NASA broadcast of the procedure. "I think that was excellent, we could not have hoped for a better kind of day. It's just wonderful."

A test version of Orion launched at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, taking to the skies atop the refurbished first-stage motor of a Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile. Fifty-two seconds later, at an altitude of about 31,000 feet (9,450 meters), the launch abort system (LAS) attached to the top of the capsule kicked into gear.

orion blast off

The LAS' abort motor fired, its 400,000 lbs. of thrust pulling Orion up and away from the booster and imparting about 7 Gs of force in the process. (We feel 1 G continuously on Earth's surface, thanks to our planet's gravitational pull.) At the time, Orion was projected to be moving at about 800 mph (1,300 km/h) and experiencing extreme temperatures and pressures, NASA officials said.

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