Monday, June 8, 2009

USAF 'concerns' RE: Ares abort safety

Todd Halvorson

CAPE CANAVERAL -- NASA's Orion spaceship and the astronauts onboard might not survive an explosive launch failure of the agency's proposed Ares I moon rocket, analyses by Air Force safety experts show.

But NASA says new supercomputer analyses will prove the Ares I launch abort system would do its job, propelling the Orion crew module and astronauts safely away from a dangerous maelstrom of fire and debris during an emergency.

"We feel we have a very, very, very safe first stage. Very reliable," said Jeff Hanley, manager of NASA's Project Constellation, which is developing Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft in an effort to replace retiring shuttles and to ultimately carry astronauts to the moon by 2020. "We think we have a very robust design for the abort environment."

The Ares I rocket is being designed to launch astronauts inside Apollo-like Orion capsules into Earth's orbit.

The Air Force finding came as part of a "statement of capability" that gave the Ares I rocket a preliminary green light to fly from the Air Force Eastern Range, although additional reviews will continue for years. The Air Force's range provides tracking and safety services for all launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The finding was detailed in a May 20 memo from Brig. Gen. Edward Bolton, commander of the 45th Space Wing headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, to Hanley. A copy was obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.

"Recent Air Force studies have called into question the survivability of the crew module in the fratricide environment from a destructing first-stage solid rocket booster," the memo said.

The statement means that if the first stage blew up in flight, it could blast explosive solid rocket debris into the Orion crew module before its launch abort system could propel it to safety.

The launch abort system is a towering pole outfitted with small rocket motors that, when fired, would lift an Orion capsule off the top of the exploding Ares I rocket. A parachute system would enable the astronauts to land safely.

The Ares I rocket and all others launched from the Eastern Range are equipped with flight-termination systems.

Balance of the Article posted HERE.