The Ultimate Parachute Test

Jennifer Morcone Stanfield, a NASA Public Affairs Officer, wrote this great piece about the parachute system on Ares I-X.

How do you stop a 200,000-pound solid rocket motor from ending up at the bottom on the Atlantic Ocean? With the biggest, strongest rocket parachutes ever built of course!  Right now, these massive parachutes are snuggly packed in the forward section of the Ares I-X rocket’s first stage, awaiting their debut performance.  The Ares I-X flight will be the first full flight test of the Ares I parachute system.

NASA, its partners have successfully tested each element of the parachute system. In fact, over the last three years, the team has conducted three pilot, two drogue, three single main, and one main cluster parachute drop tests at Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Az.

But Ares I-X will be the best test of the whole kit and caboodle because of the unique flight profile. 

The Ares deceleration system consists of three types of parachutes: (1) a small pilot chute, which pulls out the drogue chute; (2) a 68-foot diameter drogue chute and (3) three 150-foot diameter main parachutes. Here’s how the sequence goes:

The Ares I-X first stage separates from the upper stage at 124 seconds into the test flight, at an altitude of 130,000 feet. The vehicle’s four tumble motors then fire to slow the first stage for its return trip to Earth and eventual recovery. At an altitude of about 15,000-feet the nose cone is jettisoned, immediately deploying the pilot parachute.  The pilot chute will in turn deploy the 68-foot drogue parachute, which is the workhorse of the system and will re-orient the booster to vertical and slow it to acceptable conditions for main parachute deployment. At about 4,000 feet, the separation at the base of the forward skirt extension occurs, pulling out the three 150-foot diameter main chutes packed within.  These majestic red, white and blue canopies slow the booster even more, carrying it gently to splashdown.

“The velocity and re-entry environments we’ll see on Ares I-X are bit less than Ares I, but we will get a great deal of data to help us refine the final flight hardware designs,” said King.  “We can’t wait to see our giant parachutes off the coast of Florida.” 

Message from Ares I-X Mission Manager — Bob Ess

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

Really Taking Shape Now

Yesterday, yet another portion of the Ares I-X rocket was stacked on the Mobile Launch Platform in Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building. Now that super stack 1 is up and on, the 327-foot rocket is more than half way assembled and the team is getting excited as they watch it take shape in High Bay 3.  

Super stack 1 is composed of the fifth segment simulator, forward skirt, forward skirt extension, frustum and interstages 1 and 2. It also includes two internal elements – the roll control system and the first stage avionics module – as well as the parachute system housed in the forward skirt extension. The team used a massive overhead crane, specially adapted for I-X use, to place it on top of the forward motor segment.

Over the next month, four more super stacks with the final pieces of hardware (including the simulated crew module and launch abort system) will be mated, finishing off the stacking operations for the rocket. So, in about a month, NASA is going to be able to show off one of the biggest rockets the world has ever seen!

Ares I-X is scheduled to roll out to launch complex 39B just four days prior to its targeted liftoff of October 31.

Update from the Mate Review

Here’s a quick update from Ares I-X Mission Manager, Bob Ess

Earlier thisweek, the I-X and Constellation team completed a really significant milestone –aMate Review.  The purpose of this review is to assess our readiness tobegin stacking operations in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy SpaceCenter.

Right now theAres I-X rocket is put together in big pieces called “super-stacks”. Webegin our stacking operations when we put the first part of the first stagebooster on the Mobile Launch Platform. We’ll follow that with these five“super-stacks”.  

During the review, wediscussed the mission’s progress to date, key technical and operational itemsand, of course, the readiness of the procedures and facilities for the stackingoperations. This review was attended by members of the Constellation Programand directors of the involved NASA centers as well as independent (outsideNASA) reviewers.

The review went very welland the review board agreed on a set of procedural guidelines and next-stepactions.  The mating (stacking) of the aft skirt on the MLP is the firststep in assembling I-X. As this is the foundation of our rocket, wehave spent a lot of time assessing our aft skirt and making sure it canadequately handle the needs for I-X. Some of that analysis is not quitecomplete so as a group we decided to wait until the middle of next week when weknow more about our loads analysis before we started this particular matingoperation.

Also at the Mate Review, weagreed upon a set of “constraints” that are mini-review points for some key to-doitems.  This allows the team to get together and assure that sufficientprogress has been made on these items before we undertake some of the critical stackingevents.   The constraints are mostly centered on the completion ofseveral ongoing loads analyses and the completion of some planned testing in theVehicle Assembly Building.
Overall, it was a very good,interactive review by the team and we are very please to have completed such amajor milestone. Based on our plans and the work we have ahead of us, we planon stacking the booster section in a couple of weeks and plan to have theentire vehicle stacked in August. It will really be something to see.

More to come…

-Bob Ess

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

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.