The primary structure of the ARES I-X Upper Stage Simulator (USS) launch vehicle is constructed of welded mild steel plates. There is some concern over the possibility of structural failure due to welding flaws. It was considered critical to quantify the impact of uncertainties in residual stress, material porosity, applied loads, and material and crack growth properties on the reliability of the welds during its pre-flight and flight. A criterion — an existing maximum size crack at the weld toe must be smaller than the maximum allowable flaw size — was established to estimate the reliability of the welds. A spectrum of maximum allowable flaw sizes was developed for different possible combinations of all of the above listed variables by performing probabilistic crack growth analyses using the ANSYS finite element analysis code in conjunction with the NASGRO crack growth code.

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