Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At pad 39B, Ares I-X readying for Tuesday launch

A day after its successful move to launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, work continues to prepare the Ares I-X flight test rocket for a planned Tuesday morning liftoff.

Technicians today completed a "first motion test" of signals that verify when the 327-foot rocket has left the pad.

Now, the pad is being cleared of personnel for a hazardous operation. Hydrazine propellant is being loaded from carts into two steering system Auxiliary Power Units located in the aft skirt of the four-segment solid rocket booster that comprises the first stage, along with a dummy fifth segment.

A critical Integrated Systems Test was moved up to start Thursday instead of Friday. The rotating gantry at pad 39B will be rolled back again around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

A Flight Test Readiness Review scheduled Friday, followed by a press conference, will confirm an official launch date and time for the two-and-a-half minute suborbital flight.

Processing is still on track for a planned 8 a.m. Tuesday launch, at the opening of a four-hour window.

On Saturday, launch teams will gather in Firing Room 1 of KSC's Launch Control Center and in the Mission Directors Center in Hangar AE at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for an all-day countdown simulation.

Launch vehicle and pad closeouts are planned Sunday, if all goes well.

Then Monday would primarily be a day to rest and get ready for the launch.

Teams will be called to their stations at 1 a.m. Tuesday.

If weather or technical problems crop up, launch attempts are possible next Wednesday and Thursday.

In addition to the first-stage solid booster, the Ares I-X rocket includes mock-ups of a fifth segment motor for the first stage, a liquid-fueled upper stage, an Orion crew capsule and a launch abort tower.

The $350-million development flight test is intended to provide data on the skinny rocket's flight control, first and second stage separation separation system and parachute recovery system.

Meanwhile, KSC technicians and engineers are continuing to prepare space shuttle Atlantis for a targeted Nov. 16 liftoff to the International Space Station.

The 11-day mission will deliver large spare parts to the station and bring home station flight engineer Nicole Stott.

This morning in the Space Station Processing Facility, two carriers holding the spares are being loaded into the 65-foot canister in which they'll be delivered to pad 39A next week.

That delivery is planned Oct. 29, the same day NASA executives are scheduled to hold a final flight readiness review and confirm a launch date for Atlantis.

A program-level review is continuing into its second day today.

IMAGE NOTE: The towering 327-foot-tall Ares I-X rocket has arrived on launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center after a seven-hour early-morning trek Tuesday. The test rocket left the Vehicle Assembly Building at 1:39 a.m. EDT on its 4.2-mile trip to the pad and was "hard down" on the pad's pedestals at 9:17 a.m. Part of the Constellation program, the Ares I-X is the test vehicle for the Ares I. The Ares I-X flight test is targeted for Oct. 27. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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