August 13, 2011
An article at Examiner (via), poorly sourced, reports that the Langley center (home of HL-20, Morpheus, and other innovative programs) is considering swapping out the solid for liquid engines for Max Launch Abort System. The most notably feature of this development for me is how they only got around to it after Boeing and SpaceX started development of liquid-fueled abort systems for CST-100 and Dragon respectively. In case of Boeing, test firings were already carried out in order to qualify the existing "Bantam" engine that they plan to appropriate for the program. SpaceX are aiming to leverage their "Draco" engine experience with a "SuperDraco", and preparing for the tests. For many years NASA was expected to be the technology leader by default, but no more.
Note that I am agnostic regarding the MLAS itself, or its switch to liquid power. Initiated by Mike Griffin's famous napkin sketch, MLAS was a clear loser to the traditional tower system developed by Orbital under the management of Marshall center. It was much heavier than the tower and turned out ridiculously complex once Mike's vision was applied to the real spacecraft. It was only kept alive by NASA launchers being so ridiculously tall, that they would not fit into the Vehicle Assembly Building with the tower installed. The commercial systems from Boeing and SpaceX derive the advantage from being built into the respective spacecraft. But MLAS is separate from Orion. Due to the excellent efficiency of modern solid fuels, and the necessity to use inefficient pressure-fed liquid engines, there's not going to be an outright performance advantage. So, whatever. I just find it amusing how NASA is following the lead of commercial upstarts.
UPDATE: Gary C. Hudson commented "It's only an attitude control thruster, not main LAS propulsion."
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