SCORE: Ares I-X – 1,Triboelectrification – 0

Triboelectrification tried to thwart NASA’s first flight demonstration for the next generation manned space flight program, however, it came up empty as the Ares I-X flew beautifully into the Florida sky. 


Ares I-X performs flawless rotation shortly into flight.  Photo: Ron Beard


Ares I-X creates sonic shockwaves while breaking the sound barrier.  Photo: Ron Beard


All initial signs of the flight demonstration are good.  Of course, Ares I-X’s real success will come several weeks from now when all of the data is collected, analyzed and utilized to develop a new space flight vehicle.  This data is exactly what triboelectrification could have compromised.


What is triboelectrification?  Quite simply, it is what kids have been doing to their siblings and friends for years; shuffling their feet and shocking their intended targets with an unsuspecting electrically charged touch.  Obviously, in the case of Ares I-X, there were more significant consequences than an angry peer.


Let’s break the word down.  Tribo is the Greek root, meaning friction.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, tribology “is the study of friction, wear and lubrication and the design of bearings; the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion.”  So, the big concern around launch time of Ares I-X was that building electrostatic charges would be created by the friction created on and around Ares I-X during the flight.  If those electrostatic charges discharged onto the rocket, many of the data collecting sensors might be compromised.  If the data was compromised, NASA would have an aesthetically pleasing flight to remember but very little data to use to improving the vehicle.


The next obvious question is why tribolelectrification isn’t a concern for other launches (Saturn V launches, Shuttle launches, etc.)? The decals on Ares I-X were a possible culprit.  If that is true, then NASA should have used the very popular Triboelectrification NASA EDGE stickers/decals.  I can’t vouch for the other vehicles, but my guess is that NASA EDGE will be an intregal part of the soon to be formed anti-triboelectrification task force.  The first order of business; all wool sweaters, hush puppies and shag carpet will be banned from NASA Centers.  It is a symbolic move, to be sure.  But it is a start. 

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “SCORE: Ares I-X – 1,Triboelectrification – 0”

  1. sir i want to know that are we (human) really making this world happy, joyful..if your ans. yes then i m not agree bcoz from last 2000 years we (human) faught 1500 war in world….what world we r making if we cant make this world or ourself happy..then what is the need to go on moon and mars …we will do same with those planets whatever we did with the earth

  2. i wanna work for a nasa station when im old becase i have A on science and history and space love nasa becase it awsome and i wanan work im 13 years old but hope whne i get old i wanan work for nasa

  3. Another lesson relearned! This takes me back to the Ranger 6 failure investigation that I worked on early in my career at JPL. It turned out that triboelectric charging of the fiberglass fairing, followed by a sheet discharge to the metallic upper stage (right around max-Q), coupled into and triggered the internal power to the TV camera payload 3 days too early. Needless to say that by the time Ranger 6 got to the Moon, the battery was depleted – so no TV back on an otherwise perfect flight. Note: Rangers 7, 8 and 9 then worked fine and settled the argument over whether the Moon was covered with dust layers too deep for an Apollo landing.

  4. Great post from the former NASA Goddard employee! It appears that triboelectrification has been a regular nemesis of NASA for quite some time. Thankfully, the Ranger program was able to eliminate triboelectrification in later missions. And hopefully, Ares I will avoid any future skirmishes with this electric phenomenon.

    Does anyone else remember any major hiccups in the earlier missions that may come up for Ares? It would help my chances at insider status if I could actually warn some folks and even prevent a future problem.

    All the best,

    The Co-Host

  5. the blogs and posts are great… i wanna be a NASA astronaut.. in my future.. am 15 years old and i am really interested to be a nasa astronaut..the blogs mesmerizes me out..

  6. “nice work Nasa. People want to go moon. But nasa make their work for USA goverment or technological devolopment. I think it must be first for people.”

    Note – We can’t use external links (ads, spam, ets…) due to NASA rules and regulations.


    The Co-Host

  7. “i wanna i could work for nasa station one day.”

    Note – We can’t use external links (ads, spam, ets…) due to NASA rules and regulations.


    The Co-Host

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