Engineers have installed a test version of the launch abort system (LAS) for the first test flight of the Orion capsule in December.
The LAS will not be active during the uncrewed EFT-1 mission, but during future missions it will be equipped to act within milliseconds to pull the spacecraft and its crew away from its rocket so that Orion could parachute safely back to Earth. While the abort motors are inert and not filled with solid fuel, the LAS will have an active jettison motor so that it can pull itself and the nose fairing away from the spacecraft shortly before Orion goes into orbit. The flight test will provide data on the abort system’s performance during Orion’s trip to space.
Based on what I know of the Orion/SLS launch schedule, I don’t think NASA ever intends to test it during a full launch of the SLS rocket. For one thing, the rocket is too expensive and NASA can’t afford to waste a launch just to test this one component. For another, the rocket’s development is too slow as it is, with the first launch not scheduled until 2018 and the first manned flight not until 2021, at the earliest. If they add a launch test of the abort system, NASA might not fly an SLS manned mission until late in the 2020s.
Meanwhile, NASA is sure insisting that SpaceX do such tests. And they will, since their capsule and rocket is affordable and quick to launch. What does that tell us about the two systems? Which would you buy if you were the paying customer?
Oh wait, you are the paying customer! Too bad you your managers in Congress don’t seem interested in managing your money very wisely.