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Mon, Apr 14, 2008

NASA: T-Minus One Year Until First Ares Flight

366 Days And Counting Until Blastoff

Mark your calendars for April 15, 2009. Not so you might get a head start now on filing your taxes next year (as opposed to the last-minute cramming many of us are now suffering through) but instead so you may count down with NASA to the first scheduled flight of its next booster rocket, the Ares 1.

Florida Today reports engineers with the space agency are already working overtime to ensure the 327-foot tall Ares 1-X will have a smooth flight from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. In fact, many expect the time remaining will "fly" by.

"You're going to blink your eyes and it's going to be gone," KSC's Ares 1-X project manager Carol Scott said. "I don't think I've ever been involved with a project that has moved this fast."

"We've got a lot to do, and a very short time to do it," added NASA lead Ares 1-X ground systems engineer Jon Cowart.

The April 2009 flight will be the first of four test fights for the rocket's first stage, derived from the current space shuttle's solid-rocket boosters. In particular, NASA hopes the flight will validate measures it is now undertaking to quell an anticipated vibration issue in the booster system, which could pose problems down the line for the survivability of later variants of the rocket.

The flight will also demonstrate the abilities of the first-stage flight control systems to keep the "single stick" rocket on course, without the benefit of control fin surfaces.

For the first test flight, NASA will use a four-segment booster, topped with an empty fifth segment. Replicas of an Ares 1 second stage, Orion space capsule and launch abort system rocket will ride up top. The dummy segments will feature correct exterior detailing for aerodynamics testing, and will weigh about the same as their real-life counterparts.

"It's made to look a lot like the Ares 1 vehicle, but it's a very different animal," said NASA lead ground operations engineer Tassos Abadiotakis. "We're also going to get some aerodynamics data, some thermal data -- just the basic rocketry laws to make sure what we're proposing to go fly for Ares 1 actually is going to perform as advertised."

Scott calls the Ares 1 "a long, skinny rocket. Some folks compare it to a noodle, so we want to make sure that we are able to have the flight control in place to go fly it properly.

"This is just an incredible opportunity -- to be able to get the program going and being the pathfinder for it," Scott added. "I'm really excited."

The year ahead will also provide ground operations and launch crews time to perfect the processes they expect to use when the Ares isn't just flying on test missions... but carrying astronauts back to the moon.

"I'm way too busy to have butterflies," Cowart said. "We're going to go do this, and we're going to make it."

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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