From swords to plowshares: History of the Abort Test Booster

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NASA and the U.S. Air Force are preparing to launch the Ascent Abort-2 mission using an Abort Test Booster on July 2 from Space Launch Complex-46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

AA-2 will help pave the path for NASA’s return to the moon under the Artemis program by testing the launch abort system of the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, an American-European interplanetary spacecraft intended to carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit.

The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate and Rocket Systems Launch Program, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, provided the ATB for this major milestone.

The ATB is the first-stage motor of a refurbished SR 118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile used to boost AA-2. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems partnered with RSLP to provide launch services for the ATB flying on AA-2. The major assembly of the ATB consists of a composite motor case, solid propellant, an igniter, a thrust vector system and nozzle, internal and external insulation, external protective material, and forward and aft skirts.

Once known as the Missile-eXperimental, or MX program in the 1970s, Peacekeeper ICBMs were originally developed to counterattack Soviet missile silos. They were first operationally deployed in December 1986 to the Strategic Air Command’s 90th Strategic Missile Wing at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming in re-fitted Minuteman silos. The Peacekeeper was officially decommissioned on Sept. 19, 2005 as the Department of Defense transitioned to Minuteman III missiles.

Meanwhile, the Peacekeeper ICBMs were converted into a satellite launcher role as the Minotaur IV by Orbital Sciences Corporation/ATK, now NGIS.  The Peacekeeper motor used for this launch originally stood watch at F.E. Warren Air Force Base from June 30, 1993 to Aug. 13, 2003.

Established in 1972 and now under the direction of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, RSLP gained ownership of the decommissioned Minuteman I/II and Peacekeeper motors. The RSLP uses these refurbished ICBM rocket motors to provide orbital launch capability for various DOD, NASA, and Department of Energy organizations.

In true swords to ploughshares fashion, AA-2 will use technology originally meant for war to test capability leading to the return of peaceful missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.


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