Monday, October 26, 2009

Ares I-X "ready to go fly"; weather is iffy Tuesday

NASA's Ares I-X rocket is poised for Tuesday morning's flight test launch from Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting.

"The rocket is ready to go fly, the team is ready is to go fly," mission Flight Director Ed Mango said this morning. "We are tracking no vehicle problems at this time."

Liftoff of the 327-foot test rocket from launch pad 39B is targeted for at 8 a.m., the opening of a four-hour launch window. Sign up for text message alerts about the countdown here or in the black box at right.

There's a 60-percent chance that isolated showers and high clouds could keep the flight grounded another day. Air Force meteorologists expect better conditions earlier in the window.

NASA managers today reiterated their belief that the $445-million flight test is significant even if NASA ultimately abandons the Ares I rocket, which the agency is designing to launch astronauts after the space shuttle is retired.

Even before the flight has occurred, said Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley, "Ares I-X represents a great amount of learning, building a team that can do a complicated large-scale launch vehicle development, and execute it with great flair, as you'll see."

The Ares I-X rocket - powered by a four-segment space shuttle solid rocket booster - is wired with more than 700 sensors for collecting data during the brief suborbital flight.

Hanley said that data would help make sure computer models essential to the design of any new rocket are anchored in real experience.

"What's most critical, I think, is that we learn something," he said.

Managers cautioned that the flight test carries no guarantee of success, since it involves a new vehicle that combines shuttle and Atlas V hardware and electrical systems.

"There's not people on board, we're not triply redundant in all areas, we haven't done thousands of hours of wind tunnel testing just for this flight," said Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager. "But more importantly, we don't have decades of experience in the flight vehicle like we do for for shuttle or Atlas or Delta."

He said it was wrong to assume that the future of Ares I is was riding the flight test's success.

"Everything is not hanging on this one flight, and it never was," he said. "It was an opportunity to get some data."

If Tuesday's launch attempt scrubs, the chance of poor weather drops to 40 percent on Wednesday.

The weather rules for Ares I-X are more stringent than for the space shuttle. When flying through clouds at certain temperatures and altitudes, it's possible the long, skinny rocket could trigger a shroud of static electricity that could disable flight control or range safety systems.

If weather does pose a problem, the countdown could be held at T minus four minutes until skies clear, making launch attempts possible throughout the window.

Launch teams will report to their stations at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the countdown is set to pick up at 1 a.m.

You can find more background on the mission in this NASA press kit, and check out this graphic by Florida Today's Dennis Lowe.

IMAGE NOTE: At Kennedy Space Center, processing of the Ares I-X rocket nears completion on Launch Pad 39B, in the foreground, as space shuttle Atlantis awaits liftoff from Launch Pad 39A in the distance. The Ares I-X flight test is set for Oct. 27; space shuttle Atlantis' STS-129 launch to the International Space Station is targeted for Nov. 16. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

1 comment:

Graham said...

Well i watched and waited and we almost had a launch. Last 3 minutes and 20 seconds,and we had a cut off. So close but the weather officer made the call.

Well played try again tommorow wednesday .