Tag Archives: constellation

How to Stack a Rocket

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During the months of the assembly operations, the Ares I-X team stuck a camera in the Vehicle Assembly Building to record everything.

The result…10 months of hard work stuffed into 5 minutes and 45 seconds. Watch the video on YouTube

Enjoy!!

Cone to Link Upper Stage on its Way

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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

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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.

Checking Out Hardware at the VAB

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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 Last Piece of The Rocket Has Arrived!

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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.

Media Get Up-Close View of Ares I-X Hardware at KSC

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Every time NASA launches a space shuttle we see a lot of reporters and media representatives descend on the press site at Kennedy Space Center. Last week as we got ready to launch STS-119 we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to take some of the reporters around to see the Ares I-X hardware. Right now, most of the pieces of the rocket are at KSC in various stages of processing and preparation, so there was plenty to see.

About 30 media reps joined us for a quick presentation and a Q&A session with Ares I-X Mission Manager, Bob Ess and Deputy Mission Manager, Jon Cowart. Afterward, everyone jumped on a bus and headed out on a tour of the processing facilities. We all got an up-close view of the hardware, the facilities and the people of the Ares I-X mission.

First, we stopped at Launch Pad 39B — the one Ares I-X will use — were we got a quick explanation of work being done to prepare the pad for launch. The reporters snapped shots of the new, 600-foot lightning towers surrounding the pad.

Then we went to the Assembly Refurbishment Facility, or ARF (yeah, I know), where we saw pieces of the first stage, including the aft skirt, forward skirt extension, forward skirt and frustum. Jon showed us all around and explained how each of the pieces will fit together to make the complete first stage.

The tour ended in the Vehicle Assembly Building — where the rocket will be stacked prior to being rolled out to the launch pad — where media took a peek at the pieces of hardware — remember the tuna cans? — that make up the upper stage simulator, as well as the simulated crew module and launch abort system that will top off the 327-foot vehicle for the test flight.

First Stage Segments Are on the Move

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The first stage segments are just about ready to go. They have a long trip ahead of them from first stage contractor ATK’s facilities in Promontory, Utah to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Last week, using specialty transporters, ATK moved the Center Aft Segment to a holding facility where it will be housed in preparation for the cross-country trek via railcar. Some one described these transporters as looking like something out of the Transformers movie and I don’t think that’s too far off. They are impressive looking vehicles.

That big black line you see running diagonally down the side is called a Z-stripe. The Z-stripe is a 24-inch wide stripe painted on the first stage motor segments that wraps from the top of the motor to the bottom.  The main purpose of the Z-stripe is to provide a way for the I-X team to determine the roll attitude and rate from footage recorded by cameras on the ground. That footage serves as a backup to on-board data gathered during the flight.  The Z-stripe will also provide confirmation that the rocket rolled 90° shortly after lift-off from the pad like it is supposed to. Measurement from watching the Z-stripe could be very helpful in the case that the flight goes differently than expected.

We’re expecting to ship the motor segments next month. They are the last few pieces of hardware to ship, so once they make it down to KSC, we’ll be ready to start putting the rocket together.

Final Newly Manufactured Segment Arrives at KSC for Ares I-X Launch

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The Ares I-X team was very excited on Friday when the frustum rolled into the Assembly Refurbishment Facility at Kennedy Space Center, making it the final newly manufactured segment to arrive for this summer’s Ares I-X launch.

The frustum is the segment between the Forward Skirt Extension and the upper stage of the Ares IX launch vehicle.  As you can see, it looks a lot like a giant funnel. Its main function is to transition the flight loads from the thicker upper stage to the thinner first stage. It weighs in at approximately 13,000 pounds, and is 10 feet long. It’s composed of two machined, aluminum-forged rings that are attached to a conic section. The large diameter of the cone is 18 feet, while the small diameter is 12 feet. The thickness of the cone is only 1 ¼ inches! Kind of amazing.

Now that the frustum is at Kennedy, technicians will begin the final processing and it will be integrated to the forward skirt and forward skirt extension to make the forward assembly. The completed forward assembly will be moved over to the Vehicle Assembly Building for stacking operations scheduled to begin in April.

With the arrival of the frustum, the team now waits for the final rocket components to arrive — the motors. The rocket motors, manufactured by ATK in Utah and shipped via rail to Kennedy, are scheduled to arrive next month. 

Tuna Cans at Kennedy?

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Take a look at this photo:

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.

For more photos in the VAB, try out this link:

http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/search.cfm?cat=166

 

Beating Swords Into Plowshares: The Ares I-X Roll Control System

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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!

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