Orbital Sciences is to design and build the NASA Orion Abort Test Booster (ATB) that will demonstrate and qualify the Orion crew exploration vehicle’s (CEV) Launch Abort System (LAS) under a $35 million contract with NASA and the US Air Force Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW).

The Orion LAS will pull the CEV and its astronaut passengers away from a malfunctioning Ares I crew launch vehicle in the event of an emergency during ascent. As part of the Lockheed Martin-led Orion CEV development team, Orbital is designing and building the LAS.

Over three years Orbital will manage, design, build and test the ATB, that will use Orbital's rocket technology, and carry out two planned flights in 2009 and 2010. Contract options could add up to two additional flights and two spare vehicles through 2011 adding a further $45 million to the award.

"We are very pleased to be a member of the...Orion ATB team, particularly for these early Orion flights, which will demonstrate important crew safety systems. Orbital had been working toward designing the optimal vehicle configuration that will best perform these missions for over three years,” says Orbital’s launch systems group business development vice president Mark Ogren.

The $35 million contract was awarded under SDTW’s sounding rockets programme, which allows the use of surplus government boosters to reduce launch vehicle cost for US government-sponsored missions. Orbital announced the contract awarded to it by NASA and the SDTW on 11 April.

Source: FlightGlobal.com