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Zip-riding to safety: Boeing, ULA test emergency egress system

ULA has completed testing of its Emergency Egress System at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Photo Credit: ULA

ULA has completed testing of its Emergency Egress System at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Photo Credit: ULA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Colorado-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) has completed testing its Emergency Egress System (EES), one of the milestones under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). It was developed specifically for use on Boeing’s entry in this program, the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

In this ULA image of the CAT, the Crew Access Arm, where astronauts will enter Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft can be seen in the upper left. Photo Credit: ULA

In this ULA image of the CAT, the Crew Access Arm, where astronauts will enter Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, can be seen in the upper left. Photo Credit: ULA

Should something go wrong at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41), crews could escape via egress cables on level 12 of complex’s Crew Access Tower (CAT). Astronauts would travel some 1,340 feet (408 meters) away from the 172-foot-tall tower and Atlas V 422 launch vehicle.

According to a release issued by ULA, the EES is capable of handling up to 20 personnel, including ground and flight crews.

When ULA sought out a system that could get personnel away from a serious issue at the pad as quickly as possible, they found that Terra-Nova LLC, makers of the ZipRider Hybrid, offered a commercially-developed EES based on its “off-the-shelf” patented designs.

According to ULA, adapting the ZipRider to its requirements was relatively easy. In approximately 30 seconds, astronauts and support personnel can be speeding away from an unfolding accident at speeds reaching 40 mph (64 km/h).

“ULA is absolutely focused on the safety of the crews we will be supporting and although we hope to never use it, we are excited to announce the Emergency Egress System is fully operational,” said Gary Wentz, Vice President of Human & Commercial Services. “Through our partnership with Terra-Nova, a company that designs and builds zip lines for recreational use, a modified, off-the-shelf product has been designed and constructed to meet our needs and reduce costs, while maintaining reliability and safety.”

Moreover, depending on the nature of the incident, those being evacuated from the CAT can control the speeds they travel at via the amount of pressure placed on the EES’ handles. This also allows them to ensure they come to a gentle stop. If, in the heat of the moment, they forget to brake, there are about 30 feet (9 meters) of springs on each cable at the landing area that will slow the riders down.

Those who might have to use the system one day will undergo training in the operation of the EES.

NASA has opted to cede control of some of its low-Earth orbit (LEO) operations to commercial companies Boeing, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX. The four firms will ferry cargo and crews to the sole LEO destination, the International Space Station.

Orbital ATK and SpaceX have already been sending cargo, crew supplies, and experiments to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services contract. NASA hopes that astronauts will travel to the space station under the CCP as early as 2018.

Boeing’s entry under CCP, the CST-100 Starliner, is designed to use ULA’s Atlas V rocket, which has flown some 70 missions. Its Florida launch site, SLC-41, has seen the rise of the CAT, the subsequent attachment of its Crew Access Arm, and other progress toward the return of U.S. astronauts launching from U.S. soil.

“Crew safety is paramount, and the ULA emergency egress system hits the mark for an effective yet simple system that is adapted from other commercial applications,” said Chris Ferguson, Boeing director of Starliner Crew and Mission Systems and a former NASA astronaut. “We look forward to spaceflight operations next year knowing that every measure to protect the flight and ground crew has been employed.”

According to ULA, adapting the ZipRider to their requirements was relatively easy. In approximately half-a-minute, astronauts and support personnel can be speeding away from an unfolding accident at speeds reaching 40 miles per hour. Photo Credit: ULA

According to ULA, adapting the ZipRider to its requirements was relatively easy. In approximately 30 seconds, astronauts and support personnel can be speeding away from an unfolding accident at speeds reaching 40 mph (64 km/h). Photo Credit: ULA

 

The distance from SLC-41's CAT that the emergency egress system will ferry personnel to can be seen in this image. Photo Credit: ULA

The distance from SLC-41’s Crew Access Tower the EES will ferry personnel from can be seen in this image. Photo Credit: ULA

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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