NASA has tested rocket engines and parachutes that could
be instrumental in developing the first spacecraft crew launch
escape system in almost 30 years.

The tests pave the way for a series of integrated Pad Abort
Demonstration (PAD) test flights to support NASA’s Orbital
Space Plane (OSP) program. Launch pad abort tests support
development of a system that could pull a crew safely away
from danger during liftoff. Knowledge gained from the testing
will reduce the future design and development risks of a
launch escape system that could be used for the OSP.

“PAD is the first launch pad crew escape system NASA has
developed since Apollo,” said Chuck Shaw, PAD Project Manager
at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston. “The engine and
parachute tests followed successful vehicle wind tunnel tests
in September.”

The engines were fired in tests at the Marshall Space Flight
Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., in November and December. A
series of 14 hot-fire tests of a 50,000-pound thrust RS-88
rocket engine were conducted, resulting in a total of 55
seconds of successful engine operation. The final test was
completed Dec. 11. The engine is being designed and built by
the Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power unit of The Boeing Company.

The parachutes were tested at the Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds
in Yuma, Ariz., Dec. 9. The tests verify the function,
performance and stability of an 80-foot drogue parachute and
four 156-foot main parachutes. A 12.5-ton pallet, simulating
the size and weight of a crewed vehicle, was dropped from
10,000 feet. The pallet descended to a soft landing under
almost two acres of parachutes. A second set of parachute
tests will be conducted at Yuma in spring 2004.

Integrated launch abort demonstration tests in 2005 will use
four RS-88 engines to separate a test vehicle from a test
platform, simulating pulling a crewed vehicle away from an
aborted launch. Four 156-foot parachutes will deploy and carry
the vehicle to landing. Lockheed Martin Corporation is
building the vehicle for the PAD tests. “The separate
subsystem tests will allow NASA and Lockheed Martin to begin
integration of the test vehicle, its engines and parachutes
over the next year,” Shaw said.

Seven integrated PAD test flights are planned during 2005/06.
For the initial PAD flight test in mid-2005, a representative
crew escape module will be mounted on a pusher propulsion
module. Instrumented mannequins will represent a spacecraft
crew during the tests.

NASA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin in November 2002,
to design and build a crew escape and survivability system
demonstrator and to establish a flexible test bed for use in
support of the OSP program.

The OSP program will support U.S. International Space Station
requirements for crew transport, rescue and contingency cargo.
The OSP will initially launch on an expendable vehicle and
provide rescue capability for at least four crewmembers. OSP
could launch as early as 2008. Crew transfer for the Station
is planned as soon as practical, but no later than 2012. The
PAD project is managed at JSC for the OSP Program. The OSP
Program is managed at MSFC.

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