A little bit behind schedule (it was supposed to launch before the 2008 Presidential election), the Pad Abort 1 test launched at White Sands yesterday — and would have subjected any astronauts inside to 16 gees. Oops.
The one-minute, 35-second test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., took the capsule higher — 3,886 feet — and farther down range — 6,919 feet — than anticipated.
“That motor was quite a performer,” said Deputy Test Director Jay Estes. “You might not want to be riding in there.”
That’s the truth in more ways than he intended, I’m sure. (And I can’t be the only one who finds it amusing that one of the guys launching a big solid rocket is named “Estes”.)
Were the program to be continued, this excess capability might actually be a good thing to have, given how much the capsule has changed since the PA-1 design was frozen (more to the point: how much more it weighs now).
Landing was gentler than expected, but a heavier capsule would work against that:
The boilerplate capsule floated down to the desert floor under the three red-and-white main chutes, slowed enough by them that the telemetry system continued to operate after impact. Estes said test engineers received all of the data they expected to receive.
“It was a beautiful flight,” he said. “That went like clockwork from what I could see.”
Don Reed, the NASA test director, said the capsule touched down at about 24 feet per second (fps), less than the 33 fps impact velocity predicted at the outset. That sort of data will be helpful as NASA refines its predictive models for future developments.
The best part of the test, though, was that the discarded motor stack turned into an enormous lawn dart. I don’t have permission to share the pics that were floating around the office today, but the shots of the burning adapter cone sticking up out of the desert floor are awesome — since the entire 40-odd-foot-tall tower above it is buried nearly vertically into the ground, along with about 40% of the cone itself, with just a small bulge of dirt humped up around it. It’s such a perfect needle-jab that it’s ridiculous. As for the rest of the hardware, the early reports suggested that, given another LAS, the boilerplate capsule and even the separately-jettisoned forward bay (parachute) cover could have been launched again in short order.