Labor Day is behind us and the I-X team is now in the “home stretch” for launch. We are on track for October 31st, which is only 51 days from now. Over the last few weeks a substantial amount of work has been completed on I-X. On August 13th, we completed stacking and final mechanical assembly of the 327-foot rocket, making it the tallest rocket in the world! Since that time, the team has been routing electrical cables throughout the interior of the Upper Stage Simulator as well as on the outside of the solid rocket motor. In addition, final electronic components have been installed including rate gyros and a test version of the flight computer. The vehicle is covered in over 700 special sensors (Development Flight Instrumentation or DFI) which have been painstakingly tested, one by one to assure their function during the launch.
The next major milestone is the Vehicle Power Up, which began on September 11 and will continue through the 15th. This is the first time that either ground power or on-board battery power is applied to the electronics as a system installed into the vehicle. This is a significant step forward toward launch. After a successful power up, the team has several weeks of integrated avionics testing where each system and component will be tested and the vehicle will be run through many simulated mission profiles to ensure everything is go for flight.
In parallel with all these activities on the vehicle, a lot of work is occurring at launch pad 39-B. The vehicle stabilization system is being installed to the Fixed Service Structure (FSS). This will hold the vehicle in place during the launch preparation at the pad and will be removed approximately 1-2 hours prior to liftoff. Other modifications to the pad, like new cooling capability for the avionics during ground test, are complete and awaiting the arrival of the rocket.
The launch team has already been training for the launch process. Several simulations have occurred to give the launch team experience on how to handle any problems during the countdown with this unique vehicle. Simulations will continue into October with each simulation increasing in fidelity and details of launch process and possible anomalies.
The Ares I-X team is getting really close to completing this historic launch. A huge amount of knowledge and data will be gained from this flight that will help NASA develop and refine future launch vehicles. This data applies to all future launch vehicles especially those that are an evolution of current launch vehicle technology and capability.
Since the inception of this project in 2006, the NASA team along with its contractors have attempted and succeeded to do something unprecedented. This flight is truly historic not just in the amount of data that will be received but in the benefits already realized. Five different NASA centers are working hand in hand to create this new system. We have made changes in how we use computer models for key aspects of such a launch vehicle and NASA, as a whole, has become more tightly integrated into one productive group that has shown it can address and solve any technical problem that comes our way.
Keep a look out for more information on I-X: The First Flight of a New Era.
— Bob Ess
Ares I-X Manager