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NASA's Ares V may crush Kennedy crawlerway

Heavy lifter too heavy for road to the stars?

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The budget for NASA's Constellation programme - comprising the Orion and Ares vehicles - looks like it may have run to a few billion cubic metres of road surfacing after the agency admitted the Kennedy Space Center crawlerway over which spacecraft are trundled to their launchpads could collapse under the weight of the Ares V heavy lifter.

According to Flight Global, the 40-year-old crawlerway comprises at its thickest point "200mm of river gravel that is on top of 900mm of compacted limerock, which is in turn on top of two layers of 'select fill' that is up to 1.1m deep in total".

While this is more than adequate to support the crawler-transporter, mobile launcher and Space Shuttle, weighing in at 7.7 million kg (16.9 million lb), or indeed a Volvo S70 loaded with a full crew of 13, it could feel the pressure once the 10.9m kg Ares V hits the road.

A Constellation "vertical integration element risk assessment" admits: "Given the projected weight of the Ares V vehicle, mobile launcher and transporter, the total weight is about 33 per cent higher than the crawlerway has ever supported. There is a possibility that the crawlerway could fail to support the load, resulting in severe impacts to the Constellation programme."

Since NASA administrator Michael Griffin in July said that budgetary constraints on the Constellation programme mean the agency doesn't have enough cash to "tear down all our buildings and build new ones to fit a new architecture", it has decided to deploy a "mitigation plan" designed to "collate data and analysis to establish 'confidence levels' on the effects of loading [the crawlerway] beyond 8.1m kg and perform loading tests". ®

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