The Super Stack 1 assembly is now complete with the mating (stacking) of the forward assembly to the fifth segment simulator. Stack one is made up of eight individual pieces: interstages 1 and 2, the frustum, the forward skirt extension, the forward skirt and the aft, center and forward segments of the fifth segment simulator. It also includes two internal elements, the roll control system and the first stage avionics module.
All five super stack assemblies are now complete in High Bay 4 of the VAB and are ready for stacking on the mobile launcher platform in High Bay 3 later this month.
Just so you know, the reason the rocket is separated into these super stacks has to do with the height and weight of each piece for crane loads during lifting operations.
Super Stack 2: Upper Stage Simulator “Tuna Cans” segment 1
Super Stack 3: Upper Stage Simulator “Tuna Cans” segments 2, 3, 4, 5
Super Stack 4: Upper Stage Simulator “Tuna Cans” segments, 6, 7
Super Stack 5: Spacecraft Adapter, Service Module, Crew Module and Launch Abort System
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.
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.
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.