Launch Safety for Space Nuclear Missions

Sandia has supported space launch safety analyses for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since 2006. Our support includes producing the final safety analysis report (FSAR) for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission launch in 2011 and the FSAR for the Mars 2020 mission launch in July 2020.

Due to the potential for release of radioactive material into the environment during a launch or earth-flyby accident, a safety analysis is required to assess the potential hazards from launch or return-from-orbit accident scenarios.

The goal of the safety analysis is to determine a quantitative estimate of radiological risk for use by decision makers. The risk analysis also provides information to mission designers on areas where nuclear safety could be improved, such as making modifications to the launch vehicle, space vehicle, or mission architecture. Such changes are best made early in the mission design to reduce budgetary or schedule impacts to the mission.

Sandia’s specific role in the space launch safety analysis is to:

  • Perform the phenomenological modeling of the accident scenarios using an extensive launch safety code suite
  • Quantify the results into a probabilistic estimate of radiological risk
  • Document the analyses in a FSAR

The FSAR provides the final results of the DOE safety evaluation and is an essential document in the nuclear launch safety approval process. During preparation of the FSAR, Sandia interfaces with DOE, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel (INSRP), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Geoff Freeze

(505) 284-8594