Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ares 1-X Launch

It's not the Ares 1, but the Ares 1-X. Something that resembles the final model, but is completely different in many, or even most, ways.

It's not a complete waste of time, as many have said. Sure, the upper stage is a dummy. And the lower stage is completely different from the planned one. But they got to test some important things, that while not glamorous, are still necessary. The more you do on a mockup-launch, the less uncertainty there will be with the real thing. Things like hose-connectors. Retention bolts. Paint. The launch pad itself. The tracking systems. The basic aerodynamics up to 130,000 ft.

Because the upper stage is just a dummy, after booster separation, both first and second stages just tumble close to one another. The solid booster was recovered by parachute - after all, it's an unmodified Shuttle component, unlike the real booster, so this is proven technology already. And the rest of it is boilerplate that splashed down in the Atlantic, downrange. I won't say "re-entered", because it never left the atmosphere, separation was at 130,000 ft.

Anyway the launch removes some possible surprises, and without such a launch beforehand, the first launch of the real thing (if it ever happens) will be a measureably riskier proposition. So it's not a complete waste of time. Not quite.

5 comments:

RadarGrrl said...

Let's hope it doesn't get prematurely shut down. There's plenty of areas where the US government could easily get the cash for this valuable program (/me thinks 'Iraq') and it doesn't wind up costing ten times this down the road.

Laserlight said...

Joe: "We need to get a launch in before November to hit program performance metrics."
Sam: "No can do."
Joe: "The program will likely get shut down if we don't."
Sam: "Ah. Well, if we use a dummy upper stage, and an off-the-shelf booster, we can launch by, say, next Wednesday."
Joe: "But that doesn't have anything to do with the project hardware."
Sam: "Call it an X version and write up a report on all the valuable test data. Management'll never know."

Imogen said...

I used to work for ESA, and one of the things the NASA people used to complain about was having projects capriciously cancelled out from under them, wasting huge amounts of money and demoralizing everyone.

ESA has a lot less money in total, but once member states commit to a project they have to pay up.

Zoe Brain said...

Imogen - FedSat ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FedSat) used the PUS (packet utilisation standard) from ESA for its telemetry.

I headed the spaceflight avionics team, developing the on-board computer.

Fun work. They even paid me to do it, imagine that!

Imogen said...

[gah, the Internets ate my post]

Neat. Aerospace is a small world :) I built ESTEC's big cluster for various CFD applications, mostly re-entry profiles and analyzing the failure of the Vulcain 2 in the first Ariane 5 ECA launch.

It was fun times, I got to see a bunch of satellites being tested, including the ATV, Mars Express and a Galileo. They also had a micrometeorite-pitted solar panel from (I think) the Hubble. I was invited to watch a launch at Kourou, but ironically I don't like flying.

In the end I got tired of the constant social stress of being a foreigner, and came home.