The Max Launch Abort System was tested Wednesday at 6:26 a.m. EDT at NASA's Wallops Island, Va., flight facility.
"The unpiloted launch tested an alternate concept for safely propelling a future spacecraft and its crew away from a problem on the launch pad or during ascent," NASA said, noting the system consists of four solid rocket abort motors inside a bullet-shaped composite fairing attached to a mock crew module.
Officials said the 33-foot-high escape vehicle was launched to an altitude of approximately one mile to simulate an emergency on the launch pad. The crew module mock-up then parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA has chosen another launch abort system for the Orion spacecraft. That system has a single solid launch abort motor in a tower mounted at the top of the launch vehicle stack of the Orion and Ares I rocket. Space agency engineers said it will be capable of automatically separating the spacecraft from the rocket at a moment's notice in the event of an emergency.