Rock-a-bye Rocket

Even though the rocket is now stacked and sitting on the mobile launch platform in Kennedy Space Center’s VAB, there is still a lot of testing and prep work to be done before it’s ready to roll out to the pad. Over the weekend (Aug. 29-30) the rocket underwent two days of modal testing to make sure it’s ready to stand up to the environments it’s about to find itself in.

The testing required a total of 44 accelerometers — a device that measures movement — to be installed on the flight test vehicle. And to put those on the vehicle it took more than 27,000 feet of cable.  That’s more than 5 miles!

During the testing, vibrations were mechanically introduced into the rocket by four hydraulic shakers simulating the same kind of vibrations expected during flight so the effects could be monitored.  A sway of the vehicle was then manually introduced (with a little help from Mission Manager, Bob Ess and Deputy Mission Manager Steve Davis) to create a lateral, back and forth motion so the team could measure how the rocket reacts.

Here’s a little fast-motion clip of Steve and Bob rocking the rocket (Flickr).

This part of the testing was important because it simulated the conditions the rocket could experience as it rolls out to Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B, the wind conditions at the launch pad before it launches, and what it would experience during flight at first stage ignition. 

NASA did some similar testing years ago on the Saturn V at Kennedy Space Center in the 60s. For those tests a group of people sat up on a platform and rocked the vehicle back and forth with their sneakered feet from one side, while another group of people pulled on the rocket with ropes from the other side. The group appropriately named it the “Tennis Shoe Test.”

The completion of the Ares I-X modal testing is an important step for the mission because it clears the way for next week’s Integrated Vehicle Power Application or systems power up test, which will be the first time that all of the electrical systems, control boxes and sensors will be turned on together and powered up.

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

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.

Lightning Protection Tower Rises at Launch Pad 39B

About the Author: Amber Philman serves as a Public Affairs Officer at Kennedy Space Center.

Looking out over Kennedy Space Center’s skyline toward the Atlantic Ocean, the stage is being set around Launch Pad 39B for the next generation of NASA space vehicles.

On January 4th a huge crane lifted the remaining steel structure and fiberglass mast from the ground and hoisted it up, completing a 600-foot-tall lightning tower that now sits on the east side of the launch pad.

The tower is the first of three that are part of the new lightning protection system for the Constellation Program’s Ares and Orion launches. The contract to complete the work was awarded to Ivey’s Construction Inc. on Merritt Island in July 2007 and construction on the foundation for each began in August 2008.

It’s taking 900 tons of steel, about 50 NASA and contractor workers, as well as two cranes, a small one and a mammoth one, to complete the work. The small crane rotates tower segments, while a 640-foot-tall Manitowoc Model 2100 crane lifts segments to higher elevations. Workers preassemble sections of the tower on the ground before lifting them into place.

The initial assembly of all three towers is expected to be complete by April and the whole lightning protection system by March 2010. The pad’s fixed service structure and rotating service structure will be demolished in 2010.

A system of overhead wires attached to the mast of each tower will provide the Ares launch vehicles a blanket of protection from lightning strikes, while cameras installed on each tower will record any strikes. For the Ares I-X test flight, currently targeted for July 2009, the overhead wires will be attached from tower 2 to tower 1 to protect the vehicle.

The towers also will house weather stations at four elevations to measure wind speed, wind direction, temperature and humidity.

When all the work is complete, this launch pad will look quite a bit different.