Monday, August 24, 2009

World's Tallest Rocket Readied For Test Flight

NASA is readying the world's tallest rocket for rollout at Kennedy Space Center and officials are confident the Ares I-X will fly no matter what course the Obama Administration charts for the agency.

Standing 327 feet tall in NASA's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, the super-sized rocket is about 15 stories taller than a NASA space shuttle. It is scheduled to roll out to launch pad 39B on Oct. 26 and then launch five days later.

A presidential panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine is examining options for NASA human space exploration that would scrap the Ares I, which is designed to launch astronauts in Orion space capsules.

The panel is scheduled to deliver a report to the White House on Aug. 31.

NASA officials say the $350 million flight test will yield data that can be applied to the development of any next-generation launch system.

"We have a very high confidence level that the Ares I-X is germane to NASA. Period. No caveats," said NASA Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess.

Despite looming uncertainty, Ess said the 200 to 250 people working on the Ares I-X test flight are excited about the prospects for the Oct. 31 launch.

"Now certainly in the background is the Augustine Commission and where NASA is headed, and I'll admit to you that is a distraction. You can't get away from it. It's everywhere," Ess said.

"But our team is totally focused on this rocket, totally committed," he added. "Our team is really pumped."

The Ares I-X mission is the first of a series of test flights aimed at returning U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020.

NASA completed assembly of the 1.8-million-pound rocket in high bay No. 3 of the assembly building earlier this month. It comprises a four-segment shuttle solid rocket booster, a fifth segment simulator, and mock-ups of the Ares I second stage, Orion capsule and launch abort system.

The amount of instrumentation on the rocket is unprecedented, Ess said. The Ares I-X is wired with more than 700 sensors that will gather data during the two-and-a-half-minute test flight.

Among chief objectives: Demonstrating whether the skinny "single stick" rocket can be controlled during flight. The flight also will test the rocket's first-stage parachute recovery system and the system that separates its first and second stages.

Ess said the assembly of the rocket was a test in and of itself. A team of just 30 launch controllers -- compared to 200 for space shuttle operations -- will conduct the Ares I-X countdown and launch from Firing Room 1 in the Launch Control Center.

"It's an amazing rocket," said Ares I-X deputy mission manager Jon Cowart.

"It's been about three decades since anybody has built anything this big. Everybody is so excited to see it stacked up," added NASA vehicle processing engineer Trent Smith.´"This has been a big challenge. But it's been so cool."

NASA will test-fire an Ares I first stage -- a five-segment solid rocket booster -- in Utah on Thursday.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the Florida Today images of the Ares I-X test rocket in high bay No. 3 in the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. The first shows the rocket as viewed from the deck of the mobile launcher platform it is stacked upon. The second shows the rocket's second stage simulator and mock-ups of the Orion space capsule and launch abort system as viewed from the 16th floor of high bay No. 4, the external tank checkout cell in the VAB. Photo credit: Michael R. Brown/Florida Today.


Graham said...

Ahem i have to beg your pardon,But the title of the the piece is not correct the Ares 1X is only 327ft.The Saturn V was the worlds tallest rocket at 363ft. Ares V will be taller at 381.1 ft, if obama allows it to be realised. !

Sorry to point this out .

From a UK sapce fan.

John Kelly said...

I'm sure Todd meant present day rocket. The only Saturn V still around is hanging horizontally at the KSC Visitor Complex.

Graham said...

Yes john i know,and a great sight it is too.I take your point,but it did seem a little inacurate,no offence meant.

jason32473 said...

One slight correction there is a Saturn V in Huntsville Al at the vistors center and it is vertical.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we just start building more Saturn V. If they worked to get us to the moon before they should work again

Graham said...

Sorry but that technology was state if the art in the mid 1960s to 1972.But that was then and this is now 40 years later!!. We need brand spanking new vehicles to go back out to the moon again.

Don't get me wrong here though they are learning from the past, and are incorporating the best principals of design in that programme into the new Ares vehicles .