NASA Ares I-X launch is good to go

October 26, 2009, By Thomas Antony

NASA is all set for the first flight-test of the agency’s next generation launch vehicle system , called  the Ares I-X. It is the first test flight of the Ares-I development program and is part of the Constellation Program, which has set exploration goals of NASA following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010.

Ares I-X Computer Generated Launch image

Ares I-X Computer Generated Launch image

The Ares I-X flight will provide NASA an early opportunity to test and prove some hardware, facilities, and ground operations associated with the Ares I. The test will also allow them to collect data during ascent of the simulated Ares-I stack at the different points in the flight to verify the effectiveness of the rocket’s design and to ensure that it is safe and stable in-flight before actual manned flights can begin. The Ares I-X test is part of a larger test program that will include 3 tests of the Orion “Launch Abort System” between 2009 and 2010 followed by an Ares I-Y test in 2014 and a test with an actual unmanned Orion space craft, called the Orion 1 in 2015. The Constellation Program has the first crewed mission with the Ares/Orion vehicle planned no later than 2015.

The primary purpose of the flight will be the get data about the flight characteristics of the Ares-I launch vehicle which will be built later on for manned flights. It will simulate the first two minutes of an actual Ares-I flight. The flight will demonstrate the controlling algorithms to be used in Ares-I and also the in-flight separation or staging event between an Ares-I like First Stage and an Upper Stage. Ares I-X will have a four segment solid rocket booster(SRB) as its first stage similar to the ones used in the Space Shuttle. Since the actual Ares I will have a 5-segment SRB, a dummy 5th segment will be added on top of the SRB to simulate the first stage of Ares-I.

The upper stage will be a “mass simulator” made out of eleven steel segments to simulate the shape, mass, and center of gravity characteristics of Ares I as if an actual upper stage and Orion Crew exploration vehicle is sitting on top of it. The Orion spacecraft is the vessel which will house the astronauts in an actual Ares-I manned flight. The shifting centers of mass for the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks are being simulated through the use of steel ballast plates.

Ares I-X Flight Profile

The flight profile will closely follow what will be experienced by an actual Orion/Ares I launch vehicle through Mach 4.7 ( thats around 5 times the speed of sound ). At an altitude of around 130,000 feet, about two minutes into the flight, the first stage will separate from the upper stage, which will continue to a maximum altitude of 150,000 feet and then descend and impact in the Atlantic. The first stage will deploy chutes about four and a half minutes after stage separation and splashdown in the ocean to be later recovered for inspection.

The Ares family of launch vehicles, named after the Greek God associated with Mars, will be able to carry astronauts and cargo into orbit, along with components needed to go to the Moon and later to Mars. The launch of the 327 feet tall Ares I-X , will take place from Launch Complex 39B ( LC-39B )at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida at 12 noon UTC ( 8AM EDT) today ( 27 October 2009 ), with the countdown beginning at 9 AM UTC. Live launch coverage and commentary will be broadcast on NASATV starting 9AM UTC.

More info at: NASA’s Ares I-X mission page

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