Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) completed the second of two ground tests of the attitude control motor for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle’s launch abort system in preparation for NASA’s  first flight test of the capsule this spring, the company announced March 19. The test, which confirmed the motor’s performance and evaluated environment extremes and ignition system robustness, was conducted March 17 at ATK’s facility in Elkton, Md.

Dubbed Pad Abort 1, the test constitutes the first flight demo for Orion, part of NASA’s Constellation program designed to replace the aging space shuttle fleet with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for the Moon. In his 2011 budget request, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed scrapping Constellation in favor of fostering development of a commercial crew transportation system for low Earth orbit.

NASA is required by law to continue Constellation development in 2010, including Orion and its Ares 1 launcher, in 2010. The Pad Abort 1 flight test, originally planned for September 2009, is intended to demonstrate Orion’s launch abort system, which is designed to whisk the capsule away from Ares 1 if there is a problem during liftoff.

NASA officials said in August the test had been delayed several times, due in part to technical problems with the attitude control motor. The abort system employs two other motors: an abort motor designed to pull the crew module up and away from the launch vehicle and a jettison motor that separates the crew module from the launch abort system so that parachutes can be deployed for a safe landing.