Orion spacecraft ascent abort tests to start next spring at Cape Canaveral


The testing of key safety systems in the Orion spacecraft’s launch systems is to begin in spring 2018, in Florida.

Aerospace and spaceport development authority Space Florida is partnering with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to use its Space Launch Complex 46 for the Orion spacecraft’s Ascent Abort-2 test.

The collaboration gives the Johnson Space Center (JSC) priority use of the launch complex.

Orion is the USA’s next generation space-exploration vehicle and will be capable of carrying humans into space. The tests will attempt to verify a key part of Orion’s safety system during ascent to space, before it begins missions with astronauts to deep space.

Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) is currently undergoing post-launch repairs and mission-specific modifications in preparation for Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) test activity. The launch complex was flight proven with the launch of the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket in August of this year.

Space Florida’s chief operating officer and executive general manager of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Jim Kuzma, said, “Space Florida looks forward to supporting NASA on the Orion AA-2 test, which exemplifies the evolution and future of human space exploration.

“Cape Canaveral has been the embarkation point for more humans launched into space than anywhere else, and we look forward to continuing that legacy for the next generation of space missions.”

The authority also plans to enhance SLC-46 next year by building a 190ft-tall lightning protection system by summer 2018. SLC-46 is located on the easternmost end of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), and covers approximately 30 acres. The launch facility, built in 1985 by the United States Navy to support land-based testing of the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile, has since become a multi-use complex capable of supporting a wide range of launch vehicles.

Space Florida, which provides lease access to the site and serves as liaison to range services, describes SLC-46 as a “flexible and configurable launch facility that can be modified to support a variety of new and smaller launch vehicles, including suborbital vehicles requiring only a concrete pad surface for mounting a launcher”.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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