back to article NASA tests amazing bailout rocket which will never be used

NASA has spectacularly and successfully tested the launch abort system - the ejector seat, as it were - for its new Orion crew capsule. There's just one problem: according to President Obama's stated plans, Orion will never be launched with crew aboard. The Pad Abort 1 test took place today at the White Sands Missile …


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  1. Jamie Kitson


    According to my calculations on the back of my envelope 0-600mph in 2 seconds is about 50g, can humans even survive that?

    1. SuperTim


      its about 14g and yes, if the crew is lying horizontally it is more than survivable. Even if they were upright, they may black out but two seconds wouldnt kill them. the only thing that would kill them is if they were floating about when it fired, but given the fact they would likely be accelerating already, even this is unlikely.

  2. Mister Cheese


    0-600 in 2 seconds? I understand why that sort of acceleration is required - but is that sort of force survivable?

  3. Richard 12 Silver badge

    There's other uses for an Abort spike

    Any launch with a payload that absolutely positively must survive can use that technology.

    As a not-so-completely-off-the-wall suggestion, how about launching nuclear fuel to be loaded into another vehicle once in orbit?

    You *really* don't want that to go up with a failed stack, but a lot of 'deep space' missions could really use it, given the paucity of sunlight in the outer solar system.

  4. Cyfaill
    Thumb Up

    very nice High G lift

    What a ride,

    It was tested because it is not written in stone that the US is out of the Space game.

    Just because this president does not get it, does not mean that it is over.

    Really, No maned space effort = No space effort.

    That is in the minds of those wiser than Obama in regards to what inspires people to try and have a future... overrides his short term goals.

    That is why it was tested.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Regardless of the politics involved that was rather impressive! bet you thats gonna hurt but i suppose not as much as burning to death on the top of a large rocket.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    i am glad

    its not my money they are wasting.

  7. Aleksandr Gekht

    0 to 600 mhp in 2 seconds

    0 to 600 mph in 2 seconds is about 14g, if my rusty math is to be trusted. I'm wondering what will happen with the astronauts when they go through this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They will hurt a little

      Worst case is probably a lot of bruises but that will heal again. I think the passengers would prefer this rather than sticking around a failing Ares. :-)

  8. Kelvari
    Thumb Up

    An amazing launch.

    Even though the Orion is supposed to have been canceled, the fact remains that NASA will need to have some method of getting its crews safely back to Earth, should the unfortunate happen as it did with both the Challenger and the Columbia shuttles. Either of them most likely could have been saved by such a device, if it were to have been fitted to the shuttles' crew compartments. In my opinion, experimentation in the name of safety should never be overlooked, for you never know when that one idea you had overlooked will be the one that will save the day.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    13.6G - gonna be a sore one... better than being incinerated I guess.

  10. Gary F

    The reason they did it

    At the time Obama had cancelled Orion NASA had done 100% of the research into the escape mechanism and probably 98% of the engineering. So why waste the money they had already spent by not going ahead with a test launch?

    Everything they have learnt will be banked and revisited when NASA are given the go-ahead in the future to launch manned rockets.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Good job, NASA

      I completely agree.

      If anything NASA should be praised for their initiative.

  11. Tricky Dicky

    0 to 600mph in 2 seconds!

    I assume when it lands they hose the squishy remains of the crew out of the capsule.

  12. Sean Nevin

    Not odd at all

    It's not at all strange that NASA still performed this test. After all, the thing was already built, and there was still a great deal of data to gather about how it performs.

    In any event, they still learned how to build these safety systems (always good) and maybe now have some new ideas.

    It would have been odd *not* to test it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Besides which

      The data gathered might be used for something else too. There were several parts to that thingy, some may even be new or improved designs, and they can be used in other projects now that they've been tested IRL. Remarkably sensible thing for NASA to do but positive surprises are allowed even from government agencies.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    " accelerating from 0 to 600 mph in two seconds"

    Isn't 13.7G a little hazardous to the astronauts inside the capsule? Or does the short duration only make it extremely uncomfortable?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      Uh... cont

      The heart and internal organs going "squish" might be more than extremely uncomfortable I suspect. Then again NASA must have more data on squishy organs than anyone else.

      Apart from Paris perhaps (prefers hers to be a tad stiff).

  14. Vlad 1

    Well, Elon Musk have been asking for this hardware for years

    so it has a good chance to fly - albeit not on Orion but rather on SpaceX Dragon.

  15. Will Leamon

    Numbers & Letters

    Dear Mr. President,

    Do you hear that cheering in the background of this video? THAT is the reason we need manned space flight.



  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Flippin' heck. How many G's does 0-600mph in 2-seconds work out to?

    Astronaut jelly anyone?

  17. Steve X

    NASA: Not Another Squashed Astronaut ?

    0 - 600mph in 2 seconds is a shade under 14g. Will there be any crew left to recover?

    1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

      maybe not

      but at least their remains will all be in one place, not scattered all over the eastern coast of Florida.

  18. Dave Bell

    Testing the design process?

    My guess is that there was a lor of computer simulation done before metal was ever cut. Now they can compare the reality to the predictions. And the chances are that most of the money had already been spent anyway. Why waste all the effort to build the test sample?

  19. Andus McCoatover

    Scrambled astronauts on toast, anyone?

    Jeez, I wouldn't wanna be in that fucker, shaken - and stirred to death. I'd rather a bit longer in prayer, just-in-case.

    Loved the parachute configuration, as the video proceeds. Impressive change of aerodynamics.

    But, 31 seconds, plus landing deceleration? Any smart person out there capable of doing the math? My guess is it needs to be activated at about 10Km.

    So....if it goes 'tits-up' before that, they're buggered.

  20. Dave 32

    E-ticket Ride

    Wheee! That's sure to be an E-ticket ride. If my calculations are correct, and the acceleration is constant, that represents an acceleration of about 13.7 gs. That's getting up there close to being fatal for humans. I don't suppose it would be considered a success if the pink goo flowed out the door after it landed, would it?


    1. Daren Nestor

      There were a series of experiments on this

      The experiments were run by the amazing (and totally insane!) John Stapp.

      From wikipedia: "Early experiments showed that untrained humans were able to tolerate 17 g eyeballs-in (compared to 12 g eyeballs-out) for several minutes without loss of consciousness or apparent long-term harm" (Eyeballs in means perpendicular to the spine and g-force pushing the body backwards, eyeballs out means perpendicular to the spine and g-force pushing the body forwards).

      Humans are worse at surviving g-forces in the vertical direction, because that pushes blood around the body - to the feet or brain depending on the direction, leading to grey outs, blackouts, red outs and tunnel vision. These cannot be withstood for long.

      Stapp's penultimate experiment involved "a series of rocket sled deceleration experiments culminating in a late 1954 test in which he was stopped in a little over a second from a land speed of Mach 0.9. He survived a peak "eyeballs-out" force of 46.2 times the force of gravity, and more than 25 g for 1.1 sec, proving that the human body is capable of this. Stapp lived another 45 years to age 89, but suffered lifelong damage to his vision from this last test".

      Captain Eli Beeding survived 83g for 0.4 of a second in 1958, albeit suffering severe shock. This is considered the upper limit for human survivability.

      Nasa's history of multiple G is here:

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on a sec...

    It's cheaper to go ahead and launch the thing than it is to cancel at the late date of the Orion sort-of-cancellation, then store the rocket or have it scrapped. Plus they actually do get to learn something since this is a much better steering rocket design than Apollo used, and nobody's ever used the design.

    Anything not directly connected with the test launch has already gotten a stop-work, according to

    Plus the Orion/Ares thing is still up in the air (ha!) as the congresscritters vow to veto the cancellation to keep their pork & jobs. So theoretically, there's a chance it may still happen.

    Plus this design could also be licensed to Space-X or anyone else, as it's suitable for most of the generic tall-rocket-with-a-capsule-on-top launchers. It's not an Orion-specific design.

  22. Aleph0


    Zero to 600mph in two seconds is a little more than 9 g, if I've computed correctly. That's one hell of a roller coaster ride...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      No you haven't!

      Equation of motion: v=u+at

      V=600mph=268m/s, u=0, t=2s, gives a=134ms^-2

      convert to G gives 134/9.81=13.65G

  23. jonathan keith


    0 - 600mph in two seconds? Are they going to be taking the astronauts out of it with a spoon once it lands?

  24. ratfox

    Why not?

    They had spent untold millions to build it, why not just spend an extra million to test it, just to see if it works? Anyway, the budget must have already been attributed for this test long ago.

    And really, it makes no sense to spend 99% of your budget to build something, then throw away the result without checking if it works, just to save the remaining 1%. It is almost certain that the knowledge will be useful at some point, even if not for this particular project.

  25. TheRealRoland
    Thumb Down

    It's probably coming from a separate funding...

    Just like with the schools all around the US: funding for teachers and assistants has to be cut, because funding is low; however, the 'new-building' funds are overflowing, so just continue building new school buildings, storage lockers, etc.

    And yes, laws and regulations are in place for school boards to prevent shifting funds from the new-building funds to be moved over to help funding the teachers...

  26. wsm

    Mixed messages

    Technology to give astronauts a life-saving escape route moves forward while putting astronauts on rockets does not.

    The motivations, leadership and intentions are all confused, as always.

  27. andrew mulcock
    Thumb Down



    so now do a look at the apollo eject system, the difference is ?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    13.4 G acceleration for 10 seconds with no prior warning?

    Keep those eyes shut, mouth closed and butt cheeks clenched, boys.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A change...

      ...of underwear is probably going to be eagerly sought after touchdown. The sound alone from those babies lighting up outside the capsule is probably enough to make even the heart of an astronaut tick a little faster.

  29. Anton Ivanov

    Looks suspiciously like apollo

    Didn't apollo have a siimilar system? It definitely had a spike on the front which is usually used for these purposes.

    Welcome to the wonders of 1960-es tech...

  30. Douglas Fingles

    What the heck...

    might as well light the candle, we've already paid for it. If nothing else, it shows that the system worked pretty much as designed. We'll have to see what the final report says about G loads during launch/separation/parachute deployment/landing in the capsule.

  31. Graham Marsden

    "it seems perhaps a little odd...

    "... that NASA bothered to carry out today's test at all."

    Not at all.

    If they'd built the thing, it would have been odd (if not stupid) not to test the thing since even if it isn't going to be used *right now* it provides valuable data and proof of concept which may be usable in the future.

  32. E 2

    Where's Steve Jobs?

    NASA is using the word 'pad'. Surely Steve Jobs will not put up with this?

    1. Martin.Hale
      Thumb Up

      re: Where's Steve Jobs...


      After reading umpty versions of the same two or three comments, this was near the end of the list, and was definitely the winner of the lot.

  33. Malcolm 1
    Thumb Up

    Holy crap that was fast!

    But for those worrying about the G-Force, have you heard of John Stapp?

    1. James Hughes 1


      That Stapp bloke deserves a medal. (Ok, so he's already got a load - but,l what a guy!)

  34. JimC

    Space projects last longer than most presidents

    So that explains why they kept going if they could. Mind you it also explains why funding is so difficult: no politician wants anything good to happen under his successor's watch...

  35. Scott 39

    A Few points

    This would NOT have saved the astronauts in Columbia or Challenger. This device is designed to jettison the astronauts while the rocket is still on the launchpad. It is jettisoned once in space. Columbia came apart on reentry and Challenger was already launched when it exploded. This escape method is simply not designed to address those failures.

    As to the G Force, look at the link above for John Stapp. A human can survive considerably more than 14 Gs for brief periods of time.

    Also, the cost of development is sunk cost, true. The cost of continued development and operation is still a tremendous amount. I don't agree with the decision to cancel the project, but lets not kid ourselves that it doesn't save money. It does.

    I'm still rooting for this guy:

    1. chris24j

      I think it's meant to pull the capsule away from the rocket in early launch

      I thought it was meant to pull the capsule away from a malfunctioning (or about to explode) booster and/or second stage, generally WHILE in flight. I understood that one of the reaons that the capability of a 'land' landing for Orion was removed was because the escape rocket had to be made more powerful (and Orion lighter) in order for it to be able to pull the capsule away from an accelerating solid fuel booster.

    2. chris24j

      I just checked, both on the pad and during the launch

      I originally thought it was meant to pull the capsule away from a malfunctioning (or about to explode) booster and/or second stage, generally WHILE in flight. I understood that one of the reasons that the capability of a 'land' landing for Orion was removed was because the escape rocket had to be made more powerful (and Orion lighter) in order for it to be able to pull the capsule away from an accelerating solid fuel booster. Checking Wikipedia, the descriptions indicate that the lauch escape system is for both pad and in flight escapes (up to the point where it is jettisoned

    3. Michael Necaise

      launch abort not just on the pad

      The launch abort system is designed to pull the capsule free during the ascent as well.

    4. Anonymous Coward


      This is designed for the pad AND for after launch just like the Apollo escape tower that was tested from a launched Jittle Joe rocket. see following 2 static pad tests. I'm guessing that NASA will test from a rocket if the budget allows, which it may not.

  36. asdf
    IT Angle

    nothing new here

    These type of systems have been on manned rockets for decades. In fact the Russians actually had to use it once to save a crew from a rocket shitting itself on the launchpad. IIRC they also experienced 15G for a short amount of time. It certainly is not fun but hardly fatal. As already mentioned Stapp experienced nearly 50G and only suffered eye problems. Also some race car drivers have experienced up to 200G for fractions of a second and though usually very messed up from the crash, lived no problem.

  37. chris24j

    I think you'br misunderstood - No one ever said Orion was canceled

    The Constellation Project was canceled. It was years behind schedule, and didn't have the necessary funds.

    The individual parts of that project can compete just like everyone else. If Lockheed has the Orion capsule ready - perhaps they can adapt it to a human-rated version of the Delta, Titan, or Atlas, or perhaps even purchase a booster from elsewhere.

    Ares I probably will not be further developed . . . it was probably the main reason Constellation was sapping funds and so far behind. Ares V and the Lunar Lander could still be considered. (Note that some NASA personnel have stated that the new plan could get us back to the moon SOONER than Constellation, which just kept falling further and further behind, and was taking funds from most other areas of development and research at NASA.)

    Note also, while the g-forces from a ground take-off may seem high, the escape rockets were meant to pull the capsule away from a solid fuel booster traveling at a high velocity already. It's a different situation.

  38. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Register readers maths...

    provides several figures for the acceleration - varying from 9 to 50 G

    At least more people got it right than not, but this hardly reflects well on the UK as a numerate country....

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Commantards if you please.

      There is no proof said commentards were from the UK. And you'd take 1 each way as a bad reflection? I'd take them as rush posters! and statistically as outliers since the majority consensus was more acurrate.

      There were too many comments about astronaut soup though. but perhaps all of this is because that video was awful! cutting to a close up camera at ignition made the rocket look faster than it was in reality.

  39. Stuart Halliday

    Remember ejector seats?

    People are probably aware that Jet Fighters have ejector seats.

    What they may not know is that due to the high Gs used to get the pilot away, most pilots suffer back injuries.

    But hey, they're still alive....

    So if its a choice between getting fried alive on top of a rocket or a short term in hospital, I know which I'd choose.

    To the Author of said article - Research and knowledge learnt is never wasted.

  40. alyn

    Gemini. Mercury

    Didn't the Gemini an Mercury capsules have something similar, Apollo too if I remember correctly.

    1. Titus Aduxass


      "Didn't the Gemini an Mercury capsules have something similar, Apollo too if I remember correctly."

      Mercury did, Gemini didn't.

      Gemini used two ejector seats. Lethal if you consider that the astronauts were in a pressurised pure O2 environment.

  41. MinionZero

    This is looking ever more like the Apollo program...

    This isn't new technology, because here's exactly the same design concept from 47 years ago!!!, i.e. "Pad Abort Test-1 was conducted on November 7, 1963"

    Orion is looking like a rehash of the Apollo program. So I have to wonder why Orion? I suspect its far more about making conventional rocket technology better (which has both military and commercial applications. After all, NASA behind the scenes are still very much a military organization). The putting a human into space part, seems to be more about PR against other countries.

    If they were truly serious about improving space craft and putting humans into space, they would be funding projects like Skylon. i.e.

  42. Andus McCoatover

    For 30 years an expression has bothered me... used by the late, great "Blaster Bates"

    Expression: "Stap(p) me vitals!" (as in, I'll be fuc*ked)

    Now, I get it! Thanks for the heads-up, Daren.

    From Wikipedia*, now I can see where "Gee Whiz" comes from, also.

    Fascinating bloke, Mr Stapp.

    * Well worth a read.

  43. A J Stiles

    The conversion

    600 mph = 965606.4 metres in 3600 seconds

    = 268.224 m/s

    so 0 to 268.224 m/s is 2s = 134.112 m/s²

    and g = 9.80665 m/s²

    so the acceleration = 13.6756 * g.

    But the 600 mph most probably isn't especially accurate anyway, otherwise it would have been given in the proper units (metres per second); so call it 14g.

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