Demolition Ares; Griffin Defends Decision as Twice as Safe

Stage recontact is Ares biggest performance threat
Rob Coppinger
Flight International

NASA has concluded that the first and upper stages of its Ares I crew launch vehicle could collide after separation and this problem’s impact on the Ares’ development has been given the highest risk rating by the US space agency, according to documents obtained by Flight International.

This so-called recontact problem could end an Ares I mission – possibly catastrophically – during ascent. Failure could come seconds after firing of the separation pyrotechnics, if the upper stage’s J-2X engine does not provide enough power fast enough to stop it from slowing down and colliding with the first stage and its motor, which would still be providing residual thrust.

Yep. This is a problem with all rockets; it claimed one of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launchers. The Ares design presents special problems. The first stage is underpowered, while the enormous second stage is so heavy that it needs to fall first before it starts gaining altitude. This will be a very interesting ride for the astronauts.

You can read all of Rob’s story here.

Meanwhile, Florida Today quotes former NASA Administrator as saying he chose the Ares over human-rating existing EELVs because of concern over the crew.

“Our probabilistic risk assessment for loss of crew on Ares 1 showed it to be twice as safe — I repeat, twice as safe — as a human-rated EELV-derived vehicle,” Griffin said recently.

“This figure of merit was a significant factor in our decision to go with the shuttle-derived Ares 1, yet is ignored by almost everyone suggesting we make a change,” he said. “I cannot responsibly ignore it, for reasons having nothing to do with money.”

For what it’s worth, NBC News correspondent Jay Barbree agrees with Griffin.

“The thing to do is continue on the track that they’re on,” he said. “The quicker they can get the space shuttle retired and get the Orion spacecraft built, the better off this country is going to be.”