Message from Ares I-X Mission Manager — Bob Ess


From the Ares I-X mission manager perspective, this is a very exciting time for Ares I-X. All of our hardware is at Kennedy and is being prepared for stacking and launch. Facilities are being modified to accept the vehicle and support it at the launch pad. I can walk right from my office to where all this work is going on and talk to the people that are doing it, and check on progress every day. We are currently performing testing of our instrumentation on the vehicle to ensure that it is working prior to stacking of our hardware into “stacks.”  Once the 5 stacks are completed later this summer, we will start assembling those stacks on top of each other in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Speaking of the people, our team has been doing an amazing job working through the challenges that inevitably come up during a test flight.  We are all proud to set the stage for the future in many ways and to be participating in this one of a kind mission.

More to come…

Cone to Link Upper Stage on its Way


The forward assembly, which is affectionately known around here as the “snow cone,” was rolled out of the Assembly Refurbishment Facility this morning on its way to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Employees and media came out to get a peek at the hardware.

The assembly was rolled into the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building, where it will wait to be lifted by crane into the high bay where the upper stage of the rocket is being assembled into its five super stacks. When these stacking operations begin later this month, it will be the first time a new vehicle has been stacked on NASA’s Mobile Launch Platform in more than 25 years!

The forward assembly connects the first stage motor segments to the upper stage simulator. Weighing more than 40,000 pounds, the assembly houses three newly designed descent parachutes for first stage recovery.

Ares I-X Aft Skirt on the Move


With 300 employees looking on, the Ares I-X aft skirt rolled out of the Assembly Refurbishment Facility. Senior management including Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Mission Manager Bob Ess, ATK Program Manager Joe Oliva and United Space Alliance Associate Program Manager Roger Elliot spoke at the “pep rally” type event.

The aft skirt is on its way to the Rotation Processing and Surge Facility where it will be attached to the aft motor segment later this week, forming the aft assembly. Although this was an aft skirt for the shuttle program, the team made many modifications for this new vehicle. Some modifications include adding deceleration and tumble motors, avionics and a controller for the auxiliary power unit.

Once the aft assembly is complete, it will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building to begin stacking operations in late June.

Ares I-X Puzzle Pieces Coming Together


Work continues as we put together the pieces of hardware for the Ares I-X flight test scheduled for later this year. Two of the newly designed and manufactured segments, called the forward skirt and the forward skirt extension, were joined together earlier this month in the Assembly Refurbishment Facility at Kennedy Space Center. They are two of sixteen pieces that have been put together so far.  When we put all 26 pieces together, we’ll say we’ve got a rocket. So, in a way, I guess you could say we’re more than half way there.

The 16,000-pound forward skirt extension is a proof-of-concept, or demonstration of this prototype, that incorporates 18 months of design work and eight months of manufacturing. It’s made of an aircraft-grade aluminum structure and houses three newly designed parachutes that will bring the first stage of the Ares I-X to a safe splashdown about 150 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Cape Canaveral.

The 14,000-pound forward skirt is constructed entirely of the same kind of armored steel used on Abrams A-1 tanks and armored Humvees. It is designed to simulate the stage that will contain the Ares I first stage electronics and provide access to the top of the motor.  It also contains two video cameras that will capture the main parachutes deployment. Once attached, this assembly will be joined to the frustum, another new segment made especially for Ares I-X, and then be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building for stacking.

Successful First Stage Frustum Separation Test


Earlier this month the Ares I-X team conducted a successful frustum separation test. The success of the test showed that the separation charge is fully capable of splitting the joint of the frustum’s aft ring — an important hurdle to clear. 

View frustrum test (Windows streaming)

The test simulated the first separation event that will happen about 2 minutes after launch when the propellant in the first stage booster is used up. After the booster burns through all the propellant, the first stage (bottom half of the rocket) splits from the upper stage simulator and crew module/launch abort system simulator (upper part of the rocket). This split happens at a piece of the rocket called the frustum.

The frustum is an upside-down cone-shaped piece that connects the skinnier first stage to the thicker upper stage. The large forward (top) section of the frustum, which connects with the upper stage, is eighteen feet in diameter while the aft (bottom) end is twelve feet in diameter to attach to the booster. During separation, linear shaped charges detonate at the frustum’s aft ring, allowing the first stage to return to Earth where it will be retrieved and refurbished for other Ares missions.

Another view of the test (Windows streaming)

The shock created by the charge was measured by accelerometers and acoustic pressure sensors. Measuring the shock is an important part of the test because if the bang is “too big for the buck,” it could damage some of the avionics or other pieces of hardware. It’s a balancing act between having a bang that is strong enough to separate the metal but not so strong as to damage the working parts of the rocket.

The test took place at ATK’s Promontory facility in Utah. The data from the test will be used to prepare for the Ares I-X flight and will help Ares I engineers make sure the calculations they are currently using are correct.

Checking Out Hardware at the VAB

The launch of STS-125 was absolutely beautiful! That’s one of the best things about working in the space business — getting to watch the shuttle launch. If you haven’t ever had the chance to see a shuttle launch in person you might be interested to know that there is a whole lot going on at KSC leading up to the launch. For the few days before launch all of KSC is bustling with people from all over the world who have come to see or help out with the launch.

This time, two days before launch, the Ares I-X team took an overflowing busload of media to the Vehicle Assembly Building for an Ares I-X media opportunity. As we walked into the building, the media were in awe at how big the rocket is going to be. Until you see it in person, it is hard to get a reference for how big 327 feet can be.

We proceeded down to High Bay 4 to meet up with Bob Ess, mission manager, and Steve Davis, his deputy. We split up into groups and toured the bay from the floor as well as from the fifth level. The media had many questions and were excited to see how much progress we have made in processing the upper stage.

Videos, pictures and pens were going a mile a minute trying to capture every little detail. It was hard to get the media to leave the VAB and get back on the bus! If we let them, they would have stayed all day. Not to worry, we’ll be back in a month or less.

The CM-LAS and the Birdcage

Ares I-X hardware has the best nicknames.

These images show the Stack-5 Ground Support Equipment Lifting Fixture or as it is known to the I-X team, the “birdcage” being lowered over the Crew Module/Launch Abort System (CM/LAS) for a fit check. The birdcage is a metal framework that was collaboratively built and designed at the Langley Research Center in Langley, Virginia and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It fits over the CM/LAS in order for it to be moved and stacked creating super stack 5.

The “birdcage” is bolted to the bottom of the crew module portion of the CM/LAS and then lifted into place (by one of the 325 ton overhead cranes in the VAB) and placed on top of the service module, which is already stacked on top of the Ares I-X rocket.  Technicians can then remove the bolts — from inside the CM — and the “birdcage” is removed.

Getting Locked and Loaded and Ready to Roll

The second of the two roll control system modules for Ares I-X was installed into the rocket’s interstage this week in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

These photos were taken in the Vehicle Assembly Building from the fifth floor crossover looking down into the bay.


 

The roll control system modules were loaded with their propellants at the Hypergol Maintenance Facility before being moved over to the Vehicle Assembly Building. The propellants (nitrogen tetroxide and mono¬methyl hydrazine) are hypergolic chemicals, which means they spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with one another.

The roll control system is designed to perform a 90-degree roll after the rocket clears the launch tower. It will also prevent the rocket from spiraling like a football during flight and maintaining the orientation of the rocket until separation of the upper and first stages.

Aft Skirt Hot Fire Test…Check!

Today, Ares I-X passed another significant milestone when engineers and technicians successfully completed a hot fire test of the hardware at the Aft Skirt Test Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

The hot fire test is actually a series of tests performed on the Aft Skirt –primarily the Thrust Vector Control (TVC) System. Before the test, the fuel systems are checked for leaks and filled with hydrazine (rocket fuel). The hot fire is a two-minute run of the Auxiliary Power Units (APU) using the hydrazine just as it would on launch day. The electro hydraulic servo-actuators, which control the direction the nozzle is pointing, are commanded to move to various positions to make sure they respond properly to commands. Additionally, the power units are run at 100%, 110% and 112% of capacity to assure that all redundancy modes are working properly.

When the test has been successfully completed the hydraulic systems are left as they are and the hydrazine is taken out. The system will stay in that condition until the Ares I-X vehicle is at the launch pad where the system will be refueled with hydrazine in preparation for launch.

With this milestone complete, the aft skirt will be transferred to the Rotation Processing and Surge Facility next month and attached to the aft motor segment. When attached, these two pieces of hardware make up the aft assembly and will be the first hardware to be stacked on the Mobile Launcher Platform in the Vehicle Assembly Building when that process begins in June. 

The Last Piece of The Rocket Has Arrived!


The final piece of the Ares I-X rocket arrived at KSC on Thursday. The first stage segments trekked their way across the country (2,917 miles!) from ATK in Utah to KSC in Florida. They came by rail car and pulled in Thursday afternoon.

This is a big deal because the motor segments are the last piece of major hardware to ship. Now with the major hardware elements at the launch site, we can really get into stacking and watch the rocket take shape.

These motor segments that we’re using for the first stage are from the space shuttle’s inventory — that is they were originally built for the shuttle. Ares I-X made some modifications and added some new components to make them work for the flight test.

The first stage booster packs a punch too. It can generate 3.3 million pounds of thrust, and we’ll need every bit of that to launch the rocket. The first stage will give Ares I-X it’s lift-off capability and power it through the first 120 seconds of flight. When the motor is spent, it will separate and parachute back to Earth and be recovered and towed back to land to be reused.