Yesterday we successfully tested one of the main separation systems of the Ares I-X rocket at the Alliant Techsystems (ATK) facility in Promontory, Utah. The test demonstrated that the forward skirt extension, which houses the main parachutes will be able to separate from the first stage booster as it falls back to Earth after launch.
During the flight test, the first stage booster will separate for the frustum, which is a cone-shaped piece of the rocket that connects the 12-foot-diameter first stage booster to the 18-foot-diameter upper stage. After the frustum separation, at an altitude of about 15,000 feet, the nose cone of the booster will be jettisoned and the pilot parachute will be deployed. The pilot chute will in turn deploy the drogue parachute, which will re-orient the booster to vertical and will slow it down enough that the main parachutes will be about to open. At about 4,000 feet the forward skirt extension separates from the rest of the first stage and pulls out the three main chutes packed inside. The booster splashes down and is recovered and reused.
During the test at ATK, a linear-shaped charge was used to separate the forward skirt extension and create a clean severance. Engineers also measured the shock created by the charge and will use that data to analyze the system and prepare for the Ares I-X flight test as well as the development of the Ares I rocket.