Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NASA moves up date for Ares I-X test flight

NASA has set Oct. 27 as the new target launch date for its Ares I-X test flight, four days earlier than previously planned, the agency announced today.

The rocket is the first prototype of the Ares I rocket NASA is designing to carry crews to the International Space Station and the moon after the space shuttle fleet's planned retirement in 2010 or 2011.

The future of Ares I is in doubt after a presidential panel reported this month that NASA needs another $3 billion to support its exploration goals, and predicted the rocket won't be ready until at least two years later than NASA's current goal of 2015.

A final report is still being prepared for the Obama administration.

But managers of the Ares I-X test flight say the upcoming launch will produce valuable data no matter what vehicle is chosen to launch astronauts in the future.

The $350-million test flight will provide information on the systems controlling the rocket's flight, separation of the first and second stages and first-stage parachute recovery.

The 1.8-million pound rocket features a four-segment solid rocket booster like those used by shuttles, plus simulated versions a fifth segment for the first stage, the liquid-fueled upper stage, an Orion crew capsule and a launch abort system.

The rocket - the tallest in the world at 327 feet - is expected to roll to launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center more than a week earlier, on Oct. 19.

The rollout is earlier than would be normal for an Ares I mission because the test flight is sharing employees who must also prepare space shuttle Atlantis for a targeted Nov. 12 launch from pad 39A to the south.

The launch window on Oct. 27 will extend from 8 a.m. to noon.

The test had been targeted for Halloween, but NASA officials said processing work was proceeding well and the Air Force's Eastern range was unavailable that day.

The Eastern Range tracks all launches from KSC and Cape Canaveral to ensure that the rockets don't endanger populated areas if they veer off course.

If weather or technical issues scrub the first launch attempt on Oct. 27, the test flight could launch the next day.

The dates are to be confirmed at a Launch Readiness Review scheduled Oct. 23 at KSC.

IMAGE NOTE: On Aug. 31, work platforms surround the Ares I-X launch vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 4 at Kennedy Space Center. The rocket has undergone a sway test that simulated conditions the rocket could experience during rollout to Launch Pad 39B, wind conditions at the pad and first-stage ignition. During the test, vibrations are mechanically induced into the rocket by four hydraulic shakers and a sway is manually introduced for lateral motion to measure the vehicle's response. A total of 44 accelerometers are installed on the flight test vehicle that required more than 27,000 feet of cable. Part of the Constellation Program, the Ares I-X is the test vehicle for the Ares I, which is the essential core of a space transportation system that eventually will carry crewed missions back to the moon, on to Mars and out into the solar system. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett


Robert G. Oler said...

We should all get out our Skylab falling hats!

Robert Oler

Graham said...

Excellent news can't wait to see it fly .!!People haven't seen a rocket this tall lift off since the apollo days. Don't think it's going to drop on yer head Robert .

A uk space fan.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is a success if only for the fact that billions have been poured into it. Plus, the entire future of human spaceflight in the Western hemisphere depends on it!

x ares 1x said...

I am at a loss to understand how a $360 million "test" flight of Ares 1-X in its planned configuration could have mustered approval.

Although allegedly intended to "test" the rocket's first stage flight control system, parachute recovery system, separation of first & second stages and establish vibration parameters, in reality it tests little more than how fast we can plow through cash.

The Ares first stage is designed for five solid rocket motor segments. The 1-X "test" flight utilizes four actual motor segments and at enormous additional cost, a "simulated" motor segment.

That means the fact-finding "test" flight flies slower and lower which obviously translates to less vibration. Less speed & vibration means less data on actual flight dynamics and structural integrity. Less vibration on a simulated Orion capsule means less data on launch survivability for an eventual crew.

Due to the simulated segment, separation will occur at a much lower altitude, making first stage tumble and chute deployment much less representative of an actual flight.

Testing first and second stage separation adds no value as all subsequently planned Ares flights separate on an all-together different plane.

The first stage flight control system being "tested" is essentially the same one in place for the last 128 Space Shuttle launches. You'd think we'd have a pretty good handle on how it might perform.

There's absolutely no testing of 1-X's second stage flight dynamics as following separation it simply continues on a ballistic arc, crashing into the Atlantic. What can we learn from such a "test" flight?

A very possible revelation is a vehicle with such a high slenderness ratio (14' x 327'), twice that of a Saturn V and almost twice that of a Delta IV, may very well break apart prior to planned first stage separation (ever see high speed video of a javelin in flight?). That is if it doesn't topple over on its unsupported rollout to the pad.

Someone really needs to re-think this.

Conor said...

I'm looking forward to seeing both pads occupied again. Something we won't see again for several years if at all.
Why does a brief sub-orbital launch need a launch window, even a generous six hour one? Wouldn't any daylight time do?

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see it roll out.

Anonymous said...

Geez...now $300 million dollars is equal to billions! Amazing!

Seriously, good luck to the Ares 1-X folks on the launch! I'll be at the VAB that day to see it go!

Anonymous said...

@"x ares 1x":

The stability control on Ares 1-X is much different than that used on the shuttle. The flight characteristics of a single candlestick are different than the shuttle, which has 2 candlesticks flying in parallel, with a different mass, drag, and center of gravity.

As for the vibration profile of this 1-X unit versus the real thing, don't you think the engineers have already taken that into consideration?

And gee, I wonder whether they thought about how stable the rocket will be on the launch platform?

Graham said...

x ares 1x. I think that you'll be very surprised at the flight,and the data gathered. They do know what they're doing you know. The people that engineer and build these machines are some of the USA'S best at what they do.

Just wait for the flight and see what transpires.

A UK space fan.

stevepem said...

Seems like they could simulate five-motor acceleration and altitude by reducing the test weight to something less than a "real" Aries 1. Anyone know what the weight of the Aries 1-X stack is compared to Aries 1?

Anonymous said...

I hope this does not end up being another gigantic waste of money, as the Venture Star project did. I am sure if any common sense were involved, we would have had a large Delta or other commercial rocket with a track record carrying astronauts or cargo to the space station ten years ago (and don't let anybody tell you that it is not possible-ask them who is paying them.) Similarly, a moon project could be accomplished with modifications or an evolution of an existing rocket.

Anonymous said...

In spite of vastly different single candlestick flight characteristics concerning variances in mass, drag, and center of gravity, the first stage steering and stability control system being utilized for the Ares 1X is exactly the same as that used on the Shuttle boosters.
The apparent ATK/1X goal was to get something/anything launched as soon as possible (originally scheduled for April '09) BEFORE folks realized the folly and funding was cut.