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.
With its telltale “Z” stripe showing, the aft center section of the Ares I-X first stage booster is hoisted into place. Using a 325-ton capacity crane, the aft center is being lifted so it can be joined to the aft section already in place on mobile launch platform 1.
Last week the aft section was placed on MLP 1 and locked down by four huge bolts — each of which has 750,000 pounds of tension in them when torqued down. The 100 foot horizontal and 90 foot vertical journey from the center transfer aisle of the VAB into VAB high bay 3 takes many hours due to the methodical nature of handling and moving solid rocket motor segments loaded with hundreds of tons of explosive propellant.
Once the aft center section is in place, the forward center section will soon be brought over and finally the forward section will be joined to the other three. Once we have all 4 sections stacked, we will be ready for the first non-rocket motor section called Super Stack 1.
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.