That’s definitely hardware, but it’s not a space shuttle! It is an Ares vehicle being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. The Constellation Program is on the move towards the Ares I-X launch and things are moving along pretty well. More and more flight hardware is pouring into KSC and the Ares I-X team is now starting to put the rocket together.
In the center of the photo, the ballast is being lowered into one of the upper stage simulator segments. The ballasts mimic the weight of the solid rocket fuel that will be needed to launch the Ares I — a total of weight of about 160,000 pounds. It’s important that Ares I-X carry these ballasts so it can to gather important data that will help engineers build the Ares I. The upper stage simulator segments are nicknamed the “tuna cans” because they look like…well tuna cans. They simulate what will be the upper stage rocket on the Ares I.
The Ares I-X flight test vehicle is being built from a lot of off-the-shelf components, such as the solid rocket booster first stage, which is coming directly from the space shuttle inventory, or the avionics, which are from the Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. However, one of the lesser-known off-the-shelf parts for Ares I-X is the Roll Control System, or RoCS.
The RoCS four thrusters fire alongside the rocket in short pulses to control the vehicle’s roll. After clearing the launch tower, the Ares I-X rocket will be rolled 90 degrees to the same orientation that the Ares I rocket will use. Once that maneuver is completed, the RoCS keeps Ares I-X from rolling during flight like a corkscrew or a football spiraling downfield. This required a rocket engine that could be turned on and off like a thermostat — only when needed to maintain position within a certain range.
There were actually a couple of choices: one was to use reaction control thrusters from the space shuttle. However, Ares I-X would have needed four thrusters per RoCS module — eight in all for the mission. However, with the Shuttle production lines shut down and Ares I-X being an expendable rocket, the Shuttle program couldn’t afford to part with any of their thrusters. Another option — the one eventually chosen — was the upper stage engine of the Peacekeeper missile system, which was in the process of being demilitarized and dismantled as part of the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II).
The Peacekeeper’s axial engine (or AXE) met several of the Ares I-X requirements, including the fact that it was a reliable, off-the-shelf system; it was able to handle the on/off pulsing cycle needed for the flight; its thrust was such that only two engines would be required per module; and it was relatively low-cost and available for use. (The Air Force agreed to transfer the axial engines NASA needed as well as the engines’ propellant and pressurization tanks, “for just the cost of shipping,” as RoCS team leader Ron Unger put it.).
What a fantastic use of these components: instead of being used for their original mission as part of a nuclear weapon, they are contributing to the first step in America’s next generation of space exploration!
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.
About the Author: Keith Henry serves as a Public Affairs Officer at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Reporters gathered yesterday to see recently completed Ares I-X flight hardware on display at NASA Langley Research Center. The hardware, which was designed and built at Langley, is engineered to represent the outer surface of Orion crew module and a launch abort system that will increase crew safety on the Ares I rocket. Next week, the rocket hardware pieces will be shipped from Langley to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The simulated crew module and launch abort system will complete the nose of the rocket. As many as 150 sensors on the hardware will measure aerodynamic pressure and temperature at the nose of the rocket and contribute to measurements of vehicle acceleration and angle of attack.
The data will help NASA understand whether the design is safe and stable in flight, a question that must be answered before astronauts begin traveling into orbit and beyond.
Media Day Photo: While workers put the finishing touches on the Launch Abort System, left, and Crew Module simulators, reporters interviewed project officials and photographers and videographers captured the moment. The rocket elements are being placed on special flatbed trailers which will be rolled onto an Air Force C-5 for a two-hour flight to NASA Kennedy Space Center Jan. 28.