Friday, October 23, 2009

New Ares I-X test rocket carries risks

NASA's one-of-a-kind Ares I-X flight test rocket, scheduled for launch at 8 a.m. Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center, has a higher risk of mission failure than a space shuttle, managers said today.

That's primarily because the unmanned rocket is a new design that combines components from different launch vehicles, including a space shuttle solid rocket booster and avionics from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

"It definitely will be riskier than a shuttle flight because it's a first-time vehicle, first kind of configuration," said Bob Ess, the Ares I-X mission manager, during a news conference that followed a unanimous "go" vote for launch Tuesday. "We can't guarantee success next week. We've done a lot work to try and ensure it, but yeah, there's definitely risk in this flight."

Managers did not give a specific probability, but said the odds of a failure that would endanger the shuttle Atlantis, which is perched a mile away on a neighboring launch pad, is less than 1 in 10,000.

"We think the team has covered all the bases on getting this vehicle launched and worked all the technical issues to get there," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. "We realize that it's a riskier flight. You can have failures on tests, but that's why you go test. You want to learn."

The managers said preparations to launch the 327-foot, 1.8-million pound rocket are proceeding smoothly, including two days of tests wrapping up this evening.

"All that worked extremely well," said Ares I-X Flight Director Ed Mango. "The hardware is in great shape."

A countdown simulation is planned all-day Saturday. On Sunday, explosive devices will be connected that will allow the rocket to break free of its mobile launcher platform and to separate its first and second stages.

Then, things should remain quiet until launch teams are called to stations at 1 a.m. Tuesday to start a seven-hour countdown. The window extends from 8 a.m. to noon.

Today's forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of wind, rain and clouds that could stall the launch.

Another attempt could be made the next day. After that, NASA would need to negotiate with the Air Force's Eastern Range, which tracks launches from KSC and Cape Canaveral and could destroy the rocket if it veered off course.

The flight test is intended to collect data that will aid the design of the Ares I, the rocket NASA has proposed to launch astronauts after retiring the shuttle.

More than 700 sensors lining the test rocket should help validate wind tunnel and computer models -- data NASA says will be important even if plans to build Ares I are cancelled, a possibility raised this week by a presidential review panel.

"This vehicle is a flying wind tunnel model," said Ess, adding that it would take months to process "reams" of data and years to fully update computer models.

The Ares I-X mission, begun more than three years ago, has cost $445 million.

"It's really an inspiring point to be at," said Cooke.

The rocket should fly due East from launch pad 39B.

The first stage will burn for just over two minutes before separating from a dummy upper stage and deploying parachutes for a splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The upper stage, along with mock-ups of the Orion crew capsule and a launch abort system, will reach a peak altitude of about 28 miles and not be recovered. The entire flight will last roughly six minutes.

"It's going to look pretty spectacular," Ess said of the liftoff.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the top image of the Ares I-X rocket at launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. Award-winning Florida Today photographer Michael R. Brown captured the image during a remote camera survey at the pad earlier today. Photographers were out at the pad picking the spots where they will be setting up remote cameras to shoot the launch. The second image is a NASA graphic of the flight path the rocket will follow.


Spaceman said...

FT "NASA's one-of-a-kind Ares I-X flight test rocket, scheduled for launch at 8 a.m. Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center, has a higher risk of mission failure than a space shuttle, managers said today." DUH!!! Why do you think they call it a TEST FLIGHT??? You know what? It's not going into space on this mission. It's going up and then down into the ocean. Hold on to your seats, anything can happen on this launch day!!! Find a place to hide...

Anonymous said...

What that snide British word...of yeah the author of the piece is a GIT!

ALL rockets have risk and this is no different. One thing the GIT didn't mention is that the Ares-1X has a BETTER self destruct system than Shuttle does.

I wonder if Jay Barbree wrote this...he made a fool of himself during the questioning.

I hope this goes off PERFECT for NASA. All the hard work that has been done by so many people there is never appreciated enough especially by the Crumudgeon Press.

Anonymous said...

Every flight out of NASA is a RISK. It's space flihgt. what else would you call it? A trip to Winn dixie?

Gaetano Marano said...

"has cost $445 million"

the most expensive firecracker ever launched! :)

I've already explained the risks of the Ares-1 (and 1-X) 20 months ago in my article "An aborted Ares-1 launch may KILL dozens persons"

and the risks are higher (and for a larger range) than just the "one mile away Atlantis"

however, despite the risks, I find the 1-X test useful and interesting for the reasons explained here:


peter said...

445 million is a drop in the bucket compaired to other things our US govt wastes on. I'm excited to see it go up. I want to see the much larger heavey transport vehicle take off. It's taller than the Saturn 5 rocket, which was the biggest rocket ever made. All systems GO!

Anonymous said...

The new Los Angelese police headquarters that opens this week cost $437 million to build. It's just a 10-story office building. So think of that when you consider the cost for Ares I-X. And don't forget about the Dallas Coyboys $1 billion stadium as well. Ares I-X is not expensive, not when people are willing to put up 400 million dollar offices or spend a billion on a football field.

Graham said...

I hope this flight is a massive success and i'm British Gulp ! Can't wait for tuesday.