Ares I-X Test Flight Launches Successfully, Data Analysis Begins

NASA’s Ares I-X test rocket lifted off at 11:30 EDT earlier today from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first stage lasted for two minutes of powered flight as planned, while the entire mission lasted approximately six minutes from launch to the splashdown of the first stage almost 150 miles away.

The Ares I-X rocket produced 2.6 million pounds of thrust, accelerating the rocket to nearly 3 G’s and a top speed of Mach 4.76. The rocket reached a peak sub-orbital altitude of 150,000 feet after the separation the first stage from the main stage.

The Ares I is the first new rocket to launch from the Kennedy Space Center since the Space Shuttle in 1981.

“This is a huge step forward for NASA’s exploration goals,” said Doug Cooke, the Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Ares I-X provides NASA with an enormous amount of data that will be used to improve the design and safety of the next generation of American spaceflight vehicles — vehicles that could again take humans beyond low Earth orbit.”

The Ares I-X mission was conceived almost four years ago as an early demonstration for the Constellation program, which envisions a manned return to the Moon. The Ares program includes the Ares I rocket which will carry crews into Earth orbit, and the much larger Ares V to launch cargo.

“I can’t say enough about this team,” Cooke added. “They’ve been together probably a little over three years now, and they went from a concept to flying this vehicle in that period of time, which is the first time this has been done by a human spaceflight team in a long time

Today’s test flight will be followed by the Ares I-Y test flight in 2014, following years of data analysis and computer modeling. Flight engineers were especially concerned about roll torque, and will be carefully scrutinizing the data collected by over 700 onboard sensors.

A wide range of performance data was relayed to the ground during the flight and also stored in the onboard flight data recorder. This flight test engineering data will be examined to see how well it correlates with current computer models. The sensors gathered information during several key aspects of the mission, including assembly and launch operations, as well as the separation of the vehicle’s first and second stages.

There was some initial speculation that the new kevlar parachutes being used for the first time did not deploy properly. They are part of the first stage which will be recovered for inspection. The simulated Upper Stage and boilerplate fell into the Atlantic Ocean as planned and will not be recovered.

“The most valuable learning is through experience and observation,” said Bob Ess, the Ares I-X’s mission manager. “Tests such as this — from paper to flight — are vital in gaining a deeper understanding of the vehicle, from design to development.”

NASA was promoting the flight as an early opportunity to test and prove hardware, facilities, and ground operations.  However, there have been calls to scrap some test missions and even a push to abandon the Ares I rocket completely. This early test flight gives the Ares program significant public visibility, making it harder to cancel during the next round of budget cuts.

Overhanging the mission was a 157-page report by a panel ordered by President Obama to review the Constellation program. They found that the program was on an “unsustainable trajectory” due to insufficient funding and unrealistic schedules.

Instead of using the Ares I, the panel recommended relying on commercial crew transport services from companies like SpaceX. NASA would focus instead on developing heavy-lift rockets like the Ares V for deep space exploration.

Please refer here for more details regarding the Ares I rocket.

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