WASHINGTON – NASA has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to support abort flight test requirements for the Orion Project. The Air Force has contracted with Orbital Sciences Corp. of Chandler, Ariz., to provide launch services for the flight tests.

The agreement with the Air Force’s Space Development and Test Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., provides for abort test boosters that will serve as launch vehicles for Orion ascent abort flight tests that are set to occur from 2009 through 2011 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The first abort test is scheduled for 2008, but will not require a functional booster.

The tests will support certification of the Orion crew exploration vehicle’s launch abort system. The system includes a small escape rocket designed to ensure the safety of the crew in the event of a launch vehicle malfunction while on the launch pad or during ascent to orbit. A total of six tests are planned, pending environmental assessments. Two will simulate an abort from the launch pad and will not require a booster. The rest will use abort test boosters and simulate aborts at three stressing conditions along the Ares launch vehicle trajectory.

The Orion Project Office, based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, designated Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as the lead NASA center for abort flight test integration and operations, including procurement of the boosters. The project is developing the Orion spacecraft as part of an effort by NASA’s Constellation Program to return humans to the moon and prepare for future voyages to Mars and other destinations in our solar system.

Through a competitive procurement, the Air Force has awarded a task order for two abort test boosters with options for two others under the existing Sounding Rockets Program 2. This indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract task order is valued between $35 million and $57 million. The four Sounding Rockets Program 2 contractors, including the winner, Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., were allowed to compete for the job of providing booster integration and launch support services. The Air Force has conducted 16 launches in the past 11 years under the Sounding Rockets Program.

The agreement for abort flight test support benefits both NASA and the Air Force. By making use of the experienced Air Force and contractor team, NASA reduces development risk associated with design and development of a new and unique launch vehicle for these tests. NASA also achieves financial savings while meeting an aggressive Orion test schedule. The Air Force benefits through reduced risk associated with future Air Force small launches, increased opportunity for service personnel to gain expertise, and a greater chance to share technologies.

The 3rd Space Test Squadron, a unit of the Air Force’s Space Development and Test Wing, will manage abort test booster launch support services and integration of decommissioned Peacekeeper-class intercontinental ballistic missile assets. On a cost reimbursable basis, the squadron will provide integration support, project management support and related services.

The squadron regularly uses decommissioned Minuteman II and Peacekeeper rocket motors for government research and development of space launch and missile defense test target vehicles.

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