SpaceX Dragon advancing the Launch Abort System to new heights

November 29, 2016 – 01:57 pm

no altSpaceX are continuing to make progress with their NASA commercial crew contract, with the latest milestone involving the firing of their SuperDraco thruster engine, an integrated element of the Dragon which will be used as its Launch Abort System (LAS). However, these engines are hoping to gain additional roles, including the ability to land Dragon propulsively on land.

Launch Abort System:

Historically, Launch Abort Systems (LAS) – or Launch Escape System (LES) – have appeared as towers, attached on top of the crew capsule, ready to “pull” the capsule – and its crew – away from a failing vehicle, be it at the launch pad, or during early ascent.

In the event of a nominal launch, the tower would be jettisoned midway through the ascent to orbit – at a point in time where a major issue would result in the capsule simply separating away for an abort – usually resulting in a splashdown.

These LAS towers can be seen on the early crewed launch vehicles, having first been tested in 1960 – when the “Beach Abort” practiced the abort technique on the first production Mercury capsule at NASA’s test facility at Wallops Island.

While Gemini used ejection seats, the towers became part of the Mercury and Apollo programs, even earning a place in Hollywood movies, such as when Tom Hanks – playing Commander Jim Lovell in the movie Apollo 13 – reached forward to manually jettison the tower during second stage flight during the film’s launch scene.

The early flights of the Space Shuttle only employed the ejection seat capability, as much as it was hinted using such a system – only available for a limited time during first stage ascent – would have provided the escaping astronauts very little chance of survival. The Shuttle mainly relied on abort scenarios involving the return of the crew with the orbiter.

Thanks to the strict safety record of crewed launch vehicles, the use of the LAS has only been called for once during an actual emergency, with the Russians.

Another abort – Soyuz 18A – aborted in flight, resulting in the crew landing safely near the Chinese border – however, it is believed this event came after LAS jettison, with the abort carried out by the Soyuz engines.


Source: www.nasaspaceflight.com

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