Former Nuclear Missile Motor Will Find a New Home in NASA's Orion Spacecraft

Wednesday, 04 April 2018 - 6:18PM
Space
Technology
NASA
Wednesday, 04 April 2018 - 6:18PM
Former Nuclear Missile Motor Will Find a New Home in NASA's Orion Spacecraft
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NASA
In a rather "War is Peace" style of naming, the United States' "LGM-118 Peacekeeper" was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from the 1980s to be used in the event of a nuclear war.

That nuclear war thankfully never came, and the Peacekeeper was eventually retired in 2002 in favor of newer models. But the engine attached to the first stage of the missile is now getting repurposed for a more legitimately peaceful mission.

Now dubbed the SR 118 rocket motor developed by aerospace company Orbital ATK, the engine is slated to be used during a launch of NASA's Orion spacecraft in April of 2019. If that unmanned launch goes successfully, the next step will be launching an Orion spacecraft with a full crew aboard on NASA's state of the art Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

And the SLS/Orion combo could be what gets us to Mars or beyond some day. The SLS has been running into some delays and potential funding issues, but the Orion spacecraft itself hasn't been the source of any trouble recently.



The Orion's repurposed Peacekeeper motor was test-fired this past weekend in Promontory, Utah, which happens to be the same place where several Peacekeepers were test-launched over the years. Nothing really went up into the air just yet, but there was about as much smoke as a normal rocket launch.

The real launch will happen next year, when NASA and Lockheed Martin conduct their Ascent Abort-2 Flight Test of the Orion. They'll be testing out a safety feature on the spacecraft to make sure the crew can safely evacuate, and when the Orion is launched, the crew's capsule will detach from the rest of the craft at about 31,000 feet (9,440 meters). There will, of course, be no actual crew in the capsule during this test.

The sound of that engine firing up might've meant the end of the world a couple decades ago, but now it means humanity will be back up in space very soon.

So at least those people up in space will be safe if we finally do blow ourselves up.
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