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New Launch-Escape Systems Introduced in U.S. Rockets

Getting a lesson from the past, people designing the newer generation of US rockets will add an escape system for giving the crew members a chance for survival from launch accidents such as the one which occurred with Anatares Rocket on Tuesday.


Space agency of the US (NASA) bypassed escape system for the space shuttle fleet which are now retired, thinking that the spaceships will be safer than they turned out to be. This soon turned to be an illusion when on 28th Jan, 1986, the gas leaking from a solid-fuel booster rocket killed the shuttle Challenger and the seven crew member in a minute and 12 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The Launch Abort System can be triggered in a matter of a few milliseconds, catapulting the crew capsule for a distance of 1.6 km vertically within seconds.

“We proved in shuttle that it was a bad idea to not have a launch escape system … so there’s been a lot of work to build this really Cadillac version of a launch escape tower that they’ve got on Orion,” said Wayne Hale, a former NASA space shuttle program manager who oversees human space flight for Colorado-based consulting firm Special Aerospace Services.

“It’s a big, heavy capsule that requires a big, heavy rocket that steers you all over the sky to get away from problems with the big rocket booster. It’s a huge system,” Hale said.

The spaceship called Orion is made for deep-space mission whose distance is beyond the ISS (Internation Space Station) which is 418 km above earth.

SpaceX, the California-based, will be testing a different technology which uses the capsules’ steering thrusters for bossting it away from a malfunctioning rocket.

A similar pusher abort system is planned to be in use by Boeing for its CST-100 capsule. Boeing and SpaceX won contracts around 6.8 billion dollars combined last month itself for finishing development of their passanger spaceships, to test them and also to pulot them up to 6 operational missions each of which are for NASA in 2017.

On 26th Sept. 1983, a fire was formed on the launch pad of a Soyuz Rocket a minute before liftoff due to fuel leakage and just a few a few seconds before the booster exploded, the abort system of the rocket triggered, taking some cosmonauts to safety.

“The interesting thing on the Soyuz then and even today is the crew can’t initiate the launch escape tower, unlike the American designs. The ground control has to actually initiate it,” Hale said.

“I would tell you that just because you’ve got a launch escape tower on your rocket doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed safety,” he added.

NASA plans to have its commerical spaces taxis to be much faster than the shuttle that met the fate of two accidental accidents.

AJ-26, the engines used in Soviet-era motors have been replaced by others due to supply limitations and technical concerns in the newer rockets by the Orbital Sciences.

“It is possible that we may decide to accelerate this change if the AJ-26 turns out to be implicated in the failure, but this has not yet been decided,” Orbital Sciences President and Chief Executive David Thompson told analysts in a conference call on Wednesday.

“Under the original plan we were, as of now, about two years away from conducting the first launch of Antares with the second-generation propulsion system … I certainly think we can shorten that interval, but at this point I don’t know by how much,” Thompson said.

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