Space

NASA and SpaceX test launch pad evacuation systems

NASA and SpaceX test launch pa...
Teams loading "injured" personnel into the pad’s slidewire baskets for safely descending the tower
Teams loading "injured" personnel into the pad’s slidewire baskets for safely descending the tower
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Ground crew in protective gear practicing escape procedures
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Ground crew in protective gear practicing escape procedures
Teams loading "injured" personnel into the pad’s slidewire baskets for safely descending the tower
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Teams loading "injured" personnel into the pad’s slidewire baskets for safely descending the tower

NASA and SpaceX have carried out a test of launch pad evacuation systems as part of the run-up to the first manned flight of the Crew Dragon. On April 3, 2020 at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, teams conducted an end-to-end demonstration of the technology and procedures for quickly removing astronauts and ground crew from the launch tower in the event of an emergency.

Filled with highly explosive and even toxic propellants, any space launch operation is potentially very dangerous. Ones where astronauts are aboard are even worse because a larger ground crew needs to be on the launch tower until relatively close to lift off time.

Since the days of the Apollo program, NASA has operated various systems to evacuate the launch complexes used for manned missions. For Saturn V launches, each tower was equipped with high-speed elevators, slide chutes, wire slides, and air-tight bunkers that the astronauts and crews could use to get away from the rocket and shelter from fire and explosions until rescue crews arrived.

Ground crew in protective gear practicing escape procedures
Ground crew in protective gear practicing escape procedures

The wire slide system, where astronauts and ground crews escape using gondola baskets, was retained for the Space Shuttle launches and has continued to be developed for manned commercial missions. The present system uses two methods to escape from the white room on the crew access arm at the 265-foot (81-m) level of the launch tower.

One is the high-speed lift that can reach ground level in under 30 seconds from which the personnel can be driven to safety. The second is the wire slide that delivers even injured personnel to the ground away from the tower to be collected by Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles staged at the pad perimeter. Meanwhile, alarms and fire suppression systems are also activated to buy time for the evacuees.

The first manned flight of the Crew Dragon (Demo-2) is scheduled to launch after May 2020 and will certify the spacecraft before it begins regular flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

Source: NASA

2 comments
guzmanchinky
Cool article, thanks!
I am so excited to see the SLS launch. Soon. Maybe. Hopefully?
Howard Chin
This is a glorified Zip Line, and to work properly it assumes that the tower to which the top end would still be standing long enough for the "astronaut" to reach the ground. That rocket has the capability of possibly destroying the tower. As well, the "astronaut" seems to need a lot of assistance to get into the escape device. As an engineer, I'd probably re-design the system so that a tether (which would be severed and the hole through the bottom of the capsule's hatch through which it passes, where a blade would sever the tether and be sealed on ignition of the main rocket engines. The hatch would, of course, on initiation of the escape sequence, pop open and move to the side) would pull the "astronaut" out of the capsule feet first, onto a slide, into the zip line thingy, and when his/her feet hits a release, away he/she goes. The existing system is too slow and requires too many people to operate it. If he/she is not yet in the capsule, just roll onto the slide and, Zip.