MLAS – the alternative Orion Launch Abort System gains momentum

by Chris Bergin

NASA is studying an alternative method of crew abort during the launch phase of Ares I, which has the apparent backing of NASA administrator Mike Griffin.

A multi-team/inter-agency effort has been underway for some time on a project called MLAS (Max Launch Abort System) – which will begin fabrication within weeks, ahead of a pad abort test in September, 08.

Huge amounts of VSE related insider news, presentations and videos – THE most comprehensive place to follow Ares/Orion development – are available for download on L2. See list at the end of this article.

All of this article is based on documented L2 information. For an overview of how L2 works, **click here for sample**




According to the MLAS Milestone Schedule, the MLAS study was kicked off back in June, with a roadmap planned out until 2009. Already, the conceptual design stage has been completed (DAC-0), with the preliminary design (DAC-1) to be completed by the end of the month.

An Independent Technical Review was held on November 8, with trajectory simulations/dispersion analyses also completed, plans for wind tunnel tests are upcoming, while drogue reorientation chute sizing is underway.

During last month’s two-week Integrated Stack (IS) Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM), and subsequent Orion Tag-Up meetings, MLAS was listed on meeting notes – without explaining what it was – as ‘the best way forward.’ Now a presentation – acquired by L2 – has given a graphical overview of the system.

A quarterly review was carried out in November on the MLAS, a project sponsored by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) and led by NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), tasked with the objective to ‘demonstrate an alternate method to execute and control an abort of Orion Crew Module.’

The Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) is an evolution of two of the original three LAS concepts studied by Constellation. The MLAS concept combines the boost protection cover of the service module mounted escape system with the command module mounted motors.

Grown out of the ‘hand drawn sketch’ by Mike Griffin, dated March 22, 2006, the new MLAS concept has been gaining momentum as a solution to issues relating to the traditional tower abort system. What issues exist with the current LAS are not specified.

Back at the end of 2006, NASA engineers looked at three LAS options, namely the Multiple External (x4) Service Module (SM) Abort Motor concept, the Crew Module Strap On Motors (x4) concept, and the In-Line Tandem Tractor (Tower) concept – with the latter then baselined into Ares I/Orion design.

Favored – and still currently the baseline – the Tandem Tractor (Tower) LAS design comprises of a Nose Cone, Attitude Control Motor (Eight Nozzles), Canard Section (Stowed Configuration), Jettison Motor (Four Aft, Scarfed Nozzles), Interstage, Abort Motor (Four Exposed, Reverse Flow Nozzles), Adapter Cone, and Boost Protective Cover (BPC).

The MLAS utilizes the ‘bullet’ boost protection cover over the capsule to house the separation motors for the abort, as opposed to locating them on a tower above the capsule. 

The ‘bullet’ aerodynamic cover that houses four Mk 70 Terrier solid motors to power the abort. Two orientation parachutes are attached to the top of the fairing to re-orient the vehicle with the blunt heat shield into the wind and to aid in fairing separation.

The vehicle will re-orient immediately after abort motor cut off on a pad abort, but will fly with its nose into the wind on a mid-altitude abort. The orientation parachutes will then activate quickly before the fairing separation.

On a high altitude abort, the fairing will come off immediately to allow the Command Module Reaction Control System (RCS) to stabilize the vehicle for entry.

The four piece fiberglass fairing will cover the Command Module to create a flush edge on the Ares I launcher. Fabrication of the test system will begin in January of 2008, in preparation for a pad abort test in September 2008.

The test will use a boilerplate Orion, and will be used to test an alternative landing parachute system – in addition to the abort test.

Listing ‘MLAS’ Significant Progress and Plans,’ the presentation notes the system’s preliminary layout is complete. ‘Finite Element Analysis begun. Preliminary mass properties determined. Preliminary integration flow developed,’ added the presentation, dated second half of November, 07.

‘ Barge transport baselined for movement from PPF (Payload Processing Facility) to launch site. Preliminary launch hazard area being developed (drives launch pad selection and launch mount cant).’

A preliminary MK-70 manifold design has been completed for a static fire, with CFD (Computation Fluid Dynamics), thermal, and igniter analysis underway.

Wallops Flight Facility will manufacture the manifold and test stand, with MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) brought in to insulate the manifold.

Selection of L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation: 

MLAS Presentation and information. Latest Mobile Launcher details. Orion/Ares I/Delta IV Heavy NEO Feasibility Study (Video). Constellation EVA Study Presentation. Superb Gene Kranz address to CxP workforce (Apollo to Orion feature) video. MOD ‘LEO to Mars’ presentations.

Superb Ares I Launch Ascent, Pad Abort Test CGI Videos (three). Integrated Stack (IS) Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) notes – Nov 6 to Nov 15. The full ‘8th Floor News’ – Constellation Update (performance issues) – Nov 5. Ares I Mobile Launcher PMR.

‘Proposed’ Ares I SRBSF (Mini VAB) and graphic. LSAM (LDAC-1) Video and Images. Several Constellation All Hands Videos and Presentations. Ares I Pad Rollercoaster (Old and New presentation and slides – the very cool ‘CGI ride on the Ares pad coaster’ video. Ares I VAB ‘In-Line’ Stacking presentation slides.

Presentation of Ares/Orion impacts relating to Shuttle manifest acceleration. Ares I Interstage diagrams. Ares V Super Crawler. Ares I Launch Pad images (ML etc.) Hi Res images of Ares I-X Upper Stage. Orion 606-7 Data Updates. Updates Constellation launch schedule through to Orion 15. Orion Seat test photos. New ML Graphic and info. New Ares V graphic and baseline data. Large collection of hi res Orion paracute drop tests. SIX Part Series of Ares I Upper Stage Graphical Overviews. DAC-1C DDD Vast Slides on Vehicle Design. ATK First Stage Presentation. 39B Lightning Towers Slides. DAC-1C Departure points to DAC-2 Upper Stage Graphcs (Many Changes).

Orion/CEV Display Layout Presentation (40 pages). ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV. Weather Shield (Rain Shield) for Orion on the pad. New Super hi-res images of Ares I. ATK Cutaway graphics of Ares I – perspective and axonometric. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. CEV Paracute Assembly System (CPAS) Presentation.

Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) overview presentation. Changes to Ares I Upper Stage – expansive details and data. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. CLV Umbilical Trade Matrix XLS. Vehicle interfaces for the DAC 1C version of Orion Ares. Ares I-X Test Flight Plan (full outline) Presentation. Ares I-X timeline and modification expanded info. Ares I Reference Trajectory. Boeing’s STS to Ares – Lessons Learned Presentation. CLV DAC-1C (Changes to CLV Upper Stage).

Ares I-X: Four Seg+Dummy ‘Tuna Can’ stage. Ascent Developmental Flight Test Presentation. CLV Pad 39B Handover Info and Latest. New images of CLV on top of new MLP and LUT. Lockheed Martin CEV/Orion Updates. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV.

90 Minute Video of Constellation all hands meeting. Escape System Trade Study Presentation. CEV-CLV Design Analysis Cycle Review (DAC-2) Presentation. Flight Design and Dynamics Division CEV update. CLV Mono-propellant RCS system. CEV pressurisation system review. CLV/CEV Configuration Images. The 2×3 Seg SRB Crew Launch Vehicle Option Presentation…plus more.

Related Articles