Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Go Ares 1-X!

Here's a simulation video of the Pad Abort Test due to take place early next year:

This morning NASA launched the Ares 1-X Test rocket on a suborbital test to validate the aerodynamics and shape of the Ares 1 rocket as well as to test the three large 1st stage recovery parachutes.

The launch was delayed one day by unfavorable weather yesterday and it looked as if NASA would have problems launching it today. The main weather worries were related to triboelectrification (a phenomenon where an electric charge builds on the rocket as it flies through the atmosphere and hampering electronic signals between the ground and on board electronics).

NASA did launch at 11:30AM and was very impressive. The rocket seemed to pitch to the right soon after the rocket lifted off but looked good as it flew east directly over the Atlantic Ocean.

After about two minutes the solid rocket propellant burnt out and separation motors fired to separate the 1st stage booster from the Upper Stage Simulator (USS) which was essentially a mock 5th segment for the solid rocket motor, a mass simulator of the 2nd stage and the Orion capsule with launch escape tower.

NASA is extremely pleased with the results of the test and has said that everything went according to plan....well almost. It seems that the separation of the USS from the first stage was a bit off nominal, so much so that observers feel that there was recontact between the two segments after the physical separation. NASA will take a look at the telemetry to try and discern what may have occurred. NASA did say that the parachutes for the first stage worked (though there is a report that two of the three parachutes worked with the third failing) and that the first stage is being recovered.

Ares 1 is part of the Constellation Project which aims to replace the Space Shuttle as means to get astronauts to the ISS as well as return the US to the Moon and for flight to Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Currently NASA is build in a new mobile launch platform to handle the Ares 1 rocket as well as finish a preliminary design review on the Orion spacecraft and designing and testing a launch escape system for the Orion and a second stage using the J-2X rocket engine (designed based on the J-2 rocket that was used in Project Apollo).

However, the Ares 1 rocket may not see the light of day since a review ordered by President Obama revealed that NASA is woefully underfunded (no surprise there) to fulfill the objectives of the Constellation Project. The review made recommendations that includes scrapping the Ares 1 rocket in favor of alternative means to send US astronauts in to low Earth orbit and beyond. President Obama is expected to make a decision later this year.

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