NASA a Step Closer to First Flight Test of Next Crew Launch Vehicle

Thu Jan 22, 2009 2:03pm EST

* Reuters is not responsible for the content in this press release.

HAMPTON, Va., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA is a step closer to the
first flight test of the rocket that will send humans on their way to the moon
as part of the agency's Constellation Program. Rocket hardware critical for
the test, known as Ares I-X, was completed this week at NASA's Langley
Research Center in Hampton, Va. The flight of Ares I-X will be an important
step toward verifying analysis tools and techniques needed to develop Ares I,
NASA's next crew launch vehicle. 


The Langley-designed and built hardware is engineered to represent the Orion
crew module and a launch abort system that increases crew safety. In late
January, the rocket elements will be shipped from Langley to NASA's Kennedy
Space Center in Florida. This hardware and other elements from around the
country will be integrated into the Ares I-X rocket, the first in a series of
unpiloted test vehicles.

The test launch is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy during the summer of
2009. It will climb about 25 miles in altitude during a two-minute powered
flight, continuously measuring vehicle aerodynamics, controls and performance
of the rocket's first stage. The launch will culminate with a test of the
separation of the first stage from the rocket and deployment of the
accompanying parachute system that will return the first stage to Earth for
data and hardware recovery.

"This launch will tell us what we got right and what we got wrong in the
design and analysis phase," said Jonathan Cruz, deputy project manager at
Langley for the Ares I-X crew module and launch abort system. "We have a lot
of confidence, but we need those two minutes of flight data before NASA can
continue to the next phase of rocket development."

The simulated crew module and launch abort system will complete the nose of
the rocket. About 150 sensors on the hardware will measure aerodynamic
pressure and temperature at the nose of the rocket and contribute to
measurements of vehicle acceleration and angle of attack. The data will help
NASA understand whether the design is safe and stable in flight, a question
that must be answered before astronauts begin traveling into orbit and beyond.

To ensure the rocket's flight characteristics are understood fully, extreme
care was taken to fabricate the simulated crew module and launch abort tower
precisely. To compare flight results with preflight predictions confidently,
these full-scale hardware components needed to be accurate reflections of the
shape and physical properties of the models used in computer analyses and wind
tunnel tests.

The simulated crew module is a full-scale representation of the vehicle that
will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015, to the moon
in the 2020s and, ultimately, to points beyond. The conical module has the
same basic shape as the Apollo module but, at approximately five meters in
diameter, is significantly larger. The launch abort system simulator is 46
feet in length. It will fit over the crew module and tower above it, forming
the nose of the rocket.

Researchers and managers at Langley worked to overcome multiple challenges as
the Orion crew module and launch abort system simulators took shape. One team
performed fabrication and assembly work in conjunction with an off-site
contractor, and another team installed the sensors once the crew module and
launch abort tower were completed. 

"We are a highly matrixed team -- a lot of people from various organizations
-- that had to work together successfully on a tight schedule," explained
Kevin Brown, project manager at Langley for the Ares I-X crew module and
launch abort system project.

To view a video clip and still photos of construction of the crew module and
launch abort system, visit:

Video file of the simulated Ares I-X crew module and launch abort system will
air on NASA Television. For schedule and downlink information, visit:

For more information about the Ares I-X test flight and the Constellation
Program, visit:


Ashley Edwards, +1-202-358-1756,, or Grey
Hautaluoma, +1-202-358-0668,, both of NASA
Headquarters, Washington, or Keith Henry of NASA Langley Research Center,
Hampton, Va., +1-757-344-7211,
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