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(Click to expand)  (Source: NASA)

(Click to expand)

Ares I-X at Launch Pad 39B  (Source: NASA photographer Bill Ingalls)
No flight today for the Space Shuttle's replacement, maybe tomorrow says NASA

The Space Shuttles have been the workhorses of NASA for nearly 30 years, but they are due to be retired soon. NASA is going back to its rocketry roots with the Constellation program and is developing the new Ares I and Ares V launch systems as replacements. The Ares I rocket is intended primarily to launch human astronauts, while the Ares V will launch automated cargo missions.

The Saturn family of rockets were the first dedicated space rockets of the United States. All previous rockets used were adapted from military designs. Rockets such as the Atlas and Titan were primarily designed as InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), with the payload being nuclear missiles. This generally worked well enough for low-earth orbit, but larger and heavier payloads needed a completely new design dedicated for space. The mighty Saturn V rockets were what took America to the Moon, and were seen as a symbol of the technological superiority of the United States.

It is fitting then that the first test flight of the Ares I rocket was supposed to occur on the 48th anniversary of the first Saturn I launch. Unfortunately, high winds and poor weather conditions have led to a postponement.
This test mission is designated Ares I-X, and is only the first of several planned test flights that will demonstrate and test multiple key components of the Ares I system. NASA wants to follow the methodology of the Apollo program and use multiple tests to validate their designs. That way improvements can be made early on and integrated more quickly.

There are two main stages to the Ares I rocket. The First Stage is a reusable solid fuel rocket derived from the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters. It features a nozzle with thrust vectoring control. A fifth segment has been added in order to attain more thrust and a longer burn, but it will be inert for this test flight. It will be active during the second Ares I test flight in 2014, currently designated Ares I-Y.

The Upper Stage will be propelled by a new engine derived from the Saturn program. The J-2X engine will be fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It will be built by Rocketdyne, the prime contractor for the original J-2 engines used by Saturn rockets in the Apollo program. The Upper Stage for Ares I-X will use simulators, but Ares I-Y will use the real thing.

The Orion crew capsule that will sit atop the Ares I is still being designed and will not be ready for spaceflight until 2012. Ares I-X uses a non-functional payload of the same size and shape known as a boilerplate. The entire Upper Stage, including the boilerplate, will fall into the Atlantic Ocean if all goes as planned.

The primary test objectives for Ares I-X will be to demonstrate flight control system performance during ascent and to test the Parachute Recovery System of the First Stage. The parachutes use Kevlar and are much stronger and lighter than the nylon versions currently used during Space Shuttle launches.

Another major goal is to gather data on the Ares I's roll torque during flight, which will reach a maximum height of 150,000 feet (45.72 KM). Roll torque is a major issue caused by vehicle aerodynamics and the manner in which the liquid propellant burns. Computer models have been used so far, but flight safety increases dramatically as more accurate and precise data is used.

NASA engineers will bring to bear more than 700 sensors to collect data during the six minute flight. A through analysis is not expected to finish until next year. There is a Critical Design Review currently scheduled for the Ares I in 2011, and the findings there will be based on lessons from tomorrow's launch.

The Orion 1 test flight in 2014 will be the first time all of the components of Ares I will fly together. The first manned test of Orion is also targeted for 2014 with the Orion 2 mission. Orion 3 through Orion 9 will see the first visits to the International Space Station starting in 2015.

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RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By bespoke on 10/27/2009 12:36:00 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I had the same reaction. We'll be lucky to see this thing in service by 2020 at this rate. Assuming it doesn't get complete canceled... :(

RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By johnsonx on 10/27/2009 1:52:25 PM , Rating: 4
There is a very real possibility that the politicians, ever trying to out-flank each other to the left, will decide it's more important to give more handouts to the nation's losers than fund any legitimate national missions like space exploration.

RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By FaaR on 10/27/2009 6:13:01 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, why not just round up all the losers and put them in death camps? That way they won't cost you any more money (other than a few bucks for ammo for their execution).

RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By Regs on 10/27/2009 9:21:17 PM , Rating: 2
How about we just shoot them into space in a rocket? Oh wait...damn.

RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By ipay on 10/28/2009 6:43:00 AM , Rating: 4
Use them as fuel for the power stations - solves 2 problems in 1 shot.

RE: 5 Years between test flights?
By mindless1 on 10/27/2009 11:32:31 PM , Rating: 2
Easy knee-jerk reaction, but it ignores facts. Fact is, constant testing of this rocket doesn't bring us any closer to our needed space exploration goals, the Saturn program already allowed getting space probes up there.

We need to be frugal with testing rockets and put more on development of drive systems, NEW drive systems not rehashes of ones that obviously won't be viable for deeper space exploration. Until then, no amount of launching expensive missiles dubbed rockets will matter.

On the other hand the whole point is benefit to the species, is it not? What is more beneficial to the species than helping those who are not productive become so, helping to keep civil peace, spending money on real needs instead of allowing disparity to cause crimes then we pay much more building prisons to house everyone?

Oh wait, we already do the latter and obviously it is an utter failure considering per capita incarceration. Sorry but we already tried it your way, now let's accept mistakes made and move forward in a productive direction instead. The stereotypes of pregnant teenagers and drug addicts do not apply to many people, the simple fact is there are fewer jobs that pay enough to support oneself and an equal share of family expenses than there are people.

You could then claim "but they shouldn't have kids", and yet many people have/had good jobs. Same could be said about your parents or mine, that they simply shouldn't have kids just in case someday their job vanishes. Some people find good jobs again, others don't. That's the problem with changing technology, global markets, outsourcing, etc.

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