Thu 10 Dec 2009
by Robert Talmage of TAAS Company
Various NASA spokespersons, astronauts and directors are seeking a tenfold increase in flight safety standards for future astronauts. Many of these comments are referenced in an article, “NASA Clamors for Safer Launchers”, in Florida Today (November 29, 2009) by Todd Halvorson.
In addition, Wayne Hale, NASA Deputy Administrator for Strategic Partnerships went further speaking to the commercial space industry at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, (ISPCS) in October this year, saying most likely NASA would require a crew escape system on any services they contract for in crew transportation.
Due to the launch dynamics, achieving these new safety levels in vertical launch vehicles will be far more difficult than for horizontal launch vehicles. Crew escape from a vertical launch failure imposes the most significant risks, weight penalties and complexities of the escape system. For instance, the Apollo Command Module (CM) carried three crewmen, at a total mass of 6000 kg. The recovery parachutes and equipment to land the CM, amounted to 250 kg or 4.2 % of the CM’s total mass. The Launch Escape System (LES) necessary to lift the CM away from a launch failure weighed 4200 kg. This adds significant weight penalties to the launch vehicle, complexities and costs since the LES is expendable each flight. Just to protect the crew during launch, the vertical launch vehicle must carry the LES, adding weight penalties sixteen times that of the parachutes and recovery systems.
Utilizing aerodynamics in a horizontal launch vehicle eliminates the need of an escape tower (LES), by employing aircraft style flight safety characteristics. The other risks imposed by rocket propulsion, extreme speeds, altitudes and aerodynamic heating during the flight also warrants an escape system as identified by NASA. Current escape technology for aircraft will not meet the requirements for space flight or accommodate multiple individuals. By satisfying these escape needs for a space plane, we can avoid the severe weight penalties associated with escape towers and fly individuals to space in aircraft style safety and efficiency. Vertical launch vehicles are best suited for un-manned operations.
The Aircraft Escape Cabin (AEC) represents the first new escape technology in a decade. The AEC enables crew escape and recovery from supersonic speeds and extreme altitudes. In an emergency, the AEC separates and glides to the most desirable landing site on water or land. Equipped with light weight, simple devices and parachute technology, the AEC provides safe crew recovery from most any in-flight emergency.
The AEC’s modular feature also satisfies military crew survival needs and offers the economics and versatility of interchangeable modular sections. The primary markets for this modular technology are in new space, military operations and flight test vehicles. In addition, flight research is the first expenditure on new aerospace vehicles. Currently, no manned supersonic, high altitude, rocket powered, flight test vehicles are available. Targeting this market satisfies an urgent need and offers a valuable service for the development of new vehicles and propulsion systems.
The simplicity of the AEC technique enables it to be adapted to an existing aircraft. TAAS Company in Georgia, teamed with other aerospace companies, proposes to demonstrate a prototype AEC. Since it is relatively small, without propulsion or landing gear, the projected cost to fabricate and fly the AEC is less than $350,000. The prototype can subsequently be used with a rocket powered flight test vehicle.
High speed and altitude trajectories will change aviation as we know it. World transportation and access shrinks in time from double digits to two hours. Eventually, with additional speed, crew and passengers will be flying in orbit. Flight testing is the most urgent need and for this we need new escape technology.
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