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NASA Space Science

"Frickin' Fantastic" Launch of NASA's Ares I-X Rocket 383

Posted by Soulskill
from the we-can-crash-rockets-into-the-oceans-like-a-champ dept.
coondoggie writes "With a hiss and roar, NASA's Ares I-X rocket blasted into the atmosphere this morning at about 11:33 am EST, taking with it a variety of test equipment and sensors but also high hopes for the future of the US space agency. The short test flight — about 2 minutes — will provide NASA an early opportunity to look at hardware, models, facilities and ground operations associated with the mostly new Ares I launch vehicle. The mission went off without a hitch — 'frickin' fantastic' was how one NASA executive classified it on NASA TV — as the upper stage simulator and first stage separated at approximately 130,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. The unpowered simulator splashed down in the ocean."
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"Frickin' Fantastic" Launch of NASA's Ares I-X Rocket

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  • Uh huh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by raddan (519638) * on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:02PM (#29899241)
    It may really be the case that the launch was 'frickin fantastic', but just having finished reading Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age [amazon.com] I don't put a lot of faith in what the media gets wind of with regard to space technology. This stuff is really complicated, and the general public doesn't understand that test flights going awry is not necessarily a bad thing-- so officials often put a nice veneer on the results.

    I hope it really was fantastic. A lot of people put a lot of time into this thing. But this thing is so politicized, I'm not holding my breath.
    • Re:Uh huh (Score:5, Informative)

      by Canazza (1428553) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:04PM (#29899269)

      AFAIK there were a few minor hitches. One of the cameras on the first stage went out and they had trouble telling if it had splashed down or not. Also, the weather was a hassle (as it should have launched yesterday :P) and there were quite a few lightning strikes last night they'd been worried about.

    • Re:Uh huh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:12PM (#29899385) Homepage

      I don't put a lot of faith in what the media gets wind of with regard to space technology.

      Especially 'media' articles that can't keep tense consistent through five paragraphs. It's not like this guy is editing War and Peace.

      It is now safe to get off my lawn.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Canazza (1428553)

        The main article was posted before launch, I think the first paragraph is an addendum put in after the thing launched.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Entropius (188861)

      This is also the NASA that is facing such intense political pressure to justify the continuation of its manned spaceflight program -- and the NASA that Feynman slammed for its veneer-over-veracity attitude surrounding the Challenger disaster.

      Maybe they've changed their tune; maybe not.

      • Re:Uh huh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:54PM (#29900061)

        This is also the NASA that is facing such intense political pressure to justify the continuation of its manned spaceflight program -- and the NASA that Feynman slammed for its veneer-over-veracity attitude surrounding the Challenger disaster.

        Unfortunately that idiotic attitude advocated by Feynman-- "never take risks" -- is pervasive through NASA, and avoiding risk-taking is now NASA's standard operating procedure.

        Unfortunately, "taking risks" is exactly what NASA should be doing. You cannot progress without taking some risks.

        I don't know any way to get around this problem-- any program funded by Congress is going to be incredibly risk-averse, because the one thing that they cannot stand is bad publicity.

        Yeager's comment was that when an Air Force test pilot is killed, they name a street at Edwards after him, and go on with the program. When an astronaut dies, they shut down the program for two years and congress holds hearings.

        • Re:Uh huh (Score:5, Informative)

          by sconeu (64226) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:41PM (#29900773) Homepage Journal

          Feynman's attitude wasn't "never take risks", it was "Don't take stupid risks, and don't lie to yourself about what the actual risks are".

        • Re:Uh huh (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ryanov (193048) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:45PM (#29900827)

          Risks are one thing. Unnecessary risks are another. If someone warns you "those O-rings are not safe," you fix them. If someone warns you "this debris falling may damage tiles which should be inspected," you do something about it. There are going to be PLENTY of risks associated with manned spaceflight about which you do not have detailed prior knowledge. That's no reason to be careless when you have a problem staring you in the face.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573)

      I hope it really was fantastic. A lot of people put a lot of time into this thing. But this thing is so politicized, I'm not holding my breath.

      Ok, I am not a space nerd but I enjoy rockets and think they're cool to watch. That said, I watched the thing take off and it looked like any other damn rocket that has ever taken off before. Personally, while I'm glad we're retiring the Shuttle, I thought they were a whole lot fucking cooler than this rocket. I really feel like we've regressed to the 1960s.

      • "I really feel like we've regressed to the 1960s"

        As this launch is partly testing the Solid Rocket Booster stage, you could argue its regressed 750 years into Chinese firework technology!.

        Although both would be a little unfair and while its easy to joke at it being basically a high tech firework (at the moment as the other stages are not used yet), the goal of making launches cheaper is very important.

        Although to be fair its no where nearly as impressive as even a Shuttle. Its currently not even as i
        • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:12PM (#29900325)

          I wish we would back a design like Skylon. Now that would be something to get really excited about and it would fill even the general population with a sense of awe to inspire a whole new generation of space exploration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylon [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org]

          Yeah sense of awe, as in WTF... the skylon is unrealistic for the following reasons:

          1) Looking at the wikipedia article, first off, 50% faster than blackbird engines is a pure pipe dream. Material science has not improved enough for turbine blades to survive that, and the intakes required to decelerate incoming air to subsonic will either be too heavy, or impossible, or not distribute airflow evenly enough, etc etc. Tech and cad design help some, but not enough.

          2) Second wiki article problem, twice the size (twice the wing area?) but three times the weight, that things going to be a real handful at take off.

          3) The sabre engine probably will not work, as the designer himself only gives it a TRL of 2 or 3. By his own admission, that's right up there with warp drive proposals and telekinesis. The ISP is too low, the T/W is too low. Following the old 6-6-6 rule, whats wrong with 6% bigger fuel tanks and an off the shelf engine?

          (The 6-6-6 rule is mach 6 (good f-ing luck) at 60Kfeet up (difficult to impossible for an air breathing engine) gets you a whopping 6% of the way to orbit)

    • Well, yes if it went awry and that's not a bad thing, then it was 'frikin fantastic'. Its like crash testing cars. Yes, the car is crashed, but we know know more information about how it will affect the occupants so we can build safer cars.
    • by Chapter80 (926879) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:50PM (#29899995)

      Great. First we bomb the moon, looking for water. [slashdot.org] Then we bomb the Atlantic Ocean. Were we looking for Moons?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Of course, the liftoff was NASA's Image of the Day [nasa.gov] (full sized image linked). The Image of the Day page is here [nasa.gov]. Two more images of the day of the Aries:

      Ares I-X at the Launch Pad [nasa.gov]
      Building the Aries [nasa.gov]

      There are sure to be more pictures of Aries the rest of the week. That site has some amazing photos.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EvilBudMan (588716)

      What's with the negative waves man? I watched it. It did exactly what they said it was supposed to. So I guess it's still criticize NASA time around here. BTW minor stuff is expected.

  • by skgrey (1412883)
    So do they recover all of the parts and go over them closely to look for stress fractures/bad parts/etc?

    When they are developing a new rocket, I would certainly hope they do more than a few of these test flights. One successful test flight doesn't thrill me. Multiple test flights utilizing different manufacturing runs of critical parts does.
    • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:16PM (#29899435)
      They only planned to recover the first stage from what I had read. As the NASA official stated it the second stage and mock crew capsule would splash into the ocean like a giant lawn dart and sink to the bottom. I thought the analogy was funny because thanks to the government some large percentage of the population (those under say 25) have no idea what a lawn dart IS.
    • by confused one (671304) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:20PM (#29899493)
      The upper stage was not a real upper stage. The capsule was a mass simulator. The first stage was only a 4-segment booster with a mass simulator filling in the location of the 5th segment. This flight was about aerodynamics, control authority and a test of the 1st stage recovery parachutes.
      • by Thelasko (1196535)

        The upper stage was not a real upper stage.

        Which, after watching this video, [foxnews.com] makes me wonder how the upper stage is supposed to behave. I noticed it spun off axis after separation. That seems a little strange to me.

        Note: Yes, I watched it on Fox News. I've noticed that they actually have decent coverage of NASA.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Brett Buck (811747)

      They will probably do all that, but the big thing in this flight was to characterize the structural dynamics -frequencies and amount of the flexing of the structure. They did that by doing programmed attitude changes that put forces on the structure, and then use accelerometers and gyros to see how much flex there was, at what frequencies it happens, and how quickly it damped out. Those things are all critical for both stress analysis, and control system design.

      Brett

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by skgrey (1412883)

        They did that by doing programmed attitude changes that put forces on the structure

        I'm sorry ground control, I can't do that.

        • They did that by doing programmed attitude changes that put forces on the structure

          I'm sorry ground control, I can't do that.

          Listen, mister! I don't want to hear any more of your back-talk. You change that attitude or there will be hell to pay!

    • by terrymr (316118)

      There are quite a lot of tests planned over the next few years - Today was first stage performance / guidance / separation & recovery testing - the rest of the rocket was just a mock-up.

  • What's next? (Score:2, Informative)

    by schwit1 (797399)
    If all went well, when's the next launch and what are its goals?
    • Re:What's next? (Score:5, Informative)

      by confused one (671304) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:24PM (#29899569)
      according to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Constellation_missions [wikipedia.org] the next mission is Ares 1-Y, in 2013, a full first stage, a real second stage, testing high altitude abort.
      • Re:What's next? (Score:5, Informative)

        by confused one (671304) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:29PM (#29899663)
        oops. There are at least 3 test flights before that... a pad abort test in early 2010 and two ascent abort tests using a special booster, one in late 2010 (transonic) and one in late 2011 (max-Q).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          your user name is remarkably appropriate

      • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:33PM (#29899717)

        ... four years between missions? We went from nothing to the Moon in under ten years; it's taking us four years between test launches of something that we've done before?

        • Read the Augustine Commission report. There's not enough money to do it any faster than they are.
          • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:48PM (#29899945)

            Oh, yes -- I'm aware of that. That's not a criticism of NASA -- it's a criticism of the United States' screwed-up way of doing things. We spend $600 billion annually on the military, and the Iraq war will cost $2.5 trillion when all is said and done ... and yet we can't give NASA enough support that they can launch more than once every four years?

            My nation is pathetic.

        • by jfengel (409917)

          ... four years between missions?

          They pick up considerably after that; the first manned mission is the following year.

        • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:12PM (#29900319) Homepage

          We went from nothing to the Moon in under ten years; it's taking us four years between test launches of something that we've done before?

          September 12, 1962. President John F. Kennedy says "We choose to go to the Moon [historyplace.com]". Nine years later Alan Shepard is playing gold at Fra Mauro.

          Fast forward to 2009, when President Barry Obama says "Well, I guess you can go to the Moon, but I can't pay for it. Maybe you could go to an asteroid or play some chess instead." NASA starts looking for loose change in the couch to finance the next test launch.

          "So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space."

          ...just not today, so maybe we should wait and rest and look behind us for a while, until that darn economy fixes itself.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        according to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Constellation_missions [wikipedia.org] the next mission is Ares 1-Y, in 2013, a full first stage, a real second stage, testing high altitude abort.

        Actually, even prior to the Augustine Committee's report (which suggests using commercial crew instead of the Ares I for most of its options), NASA was already planning to delete the Ares I-Y launch [flightglobal.com] to try to speed up the Ares I development schedule. Also, the table (with NASA-provided figures) in general should be taken with a large grain of salt -- even though NASA's public estimate is that the first Ares I launch will be in 2014, the independent assessment [nasa.gov] by the Augustine Committee estimated that due to

    • Ares 1-Y [wikipedia.org] in 2013
    • Ok here is my question...

      They are excited about things that other countries like Russia have been doing for decades? Huh? Progress? I will gladly be corrected, but it just seems to me that this is a step backwards in comparison to the stuff that they were doing before...

      • Re:What's next? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Entropius (188861) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:32PM (#29899709)

        My grandfather fell out of a tree when he was 45 years old and powdered his hip and femur. He wasn't able to walk for a year after that.

        You can imagine he was pretty excited when he took his first halting step after a year of immobility.

        This is sort of like the US space program.

      • by isaac338 (705434)

        Ok here is my question...

        They are excited about things that other countries like Russia have been doing for decades? Huh? Progress? I will gladly be corrected, but it just seems to me that this is a step backwards in comparison to the stuff that they were doing before...

        Russia has NOT been launching Atlas rockets for decades.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by EvanED (569694)

        The US has been doing it for decades too. But new rocket designs are always at least a bit dicey.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        They are excited about things that other countries like Russia have been doing for decades? Huh? Progress?

        Technically speaking, the US has been able to build new human-capable rockets for decades as well, with the Atlas V, Delta IV, and SpaceX Falcon 9 (scheduled for later this year). The difference is that those are private companies. This has been NASA's first newly designed rocket launched in ~30 years (albeit a suborbital rocket), although one wonders if it's truly necessary for NASA to spend $35-$45 billion to try to duplicate the capability already provided by US companies.

      • Re:What's next? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sjames (1099) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:57PM (#29900987) Homepage

        It's been quite a while since the U.S. developed a new man-rated booster. In the last decades, we have learned a LOT about spacecraft. Unfortunately, what we learned is that something like the space shuttle is nowhere as maintenance free as we thought/hoped and is fantastically more expensive.

        Since we can't build a Saturn V anymore (we'd have to substitute enough obsolete parts that it would be a new design anyway) and we know building a new shuttle is too expensive, it is good to see that manned spaceflight has a future in some form in the U.S.

        Ares and Orion are take two on a reusable spacecraft now that we have a better idea what parts are practical to reuse and what parts aren't.

        Unlike the Soyuz rocket, Ares includes reusable components. The use of solid fueled 1st stage is expected to make it safer and easier to prep for launch. Things get more interesting once the 2nd stage is ready. It may not sound like much but the engine re-start capability is a big deal.

        It's not really a step backwards so much as a lateral step away from a dead-end branch that seemed like a good idea at the time. Manned space flight isn't actually out of the experimental stage yet (and certainly wasn't when the space shuttle was designed). Sometimes progress in experimental engineering looks like a step back at first glance.

  • by IorDMUX (870522) <mark.zimmerman3NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:09PM (#29899335) Homepage
    Well then, please allow me to be the first to say:

    "Heck yeah!"
  • Did it really go ok? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mordstrom (1285984) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:12PM (#29899379)
    I am just glad I was not riding in that simulator. Did anyone else notice the separation, and the flight path of the (in the future to be occupied) simulator? The booster and the simulator appeared to tumble after separation. It could have been the camera angle I suppose, but that front section should have continued on, correct?
    • by Canazza (1428553)

      it would have done, had it been real and full of rocket fuel. As far as I can tell, because it wasn't a proper 'seperation' (ie, once the bolts were seperated there was prolonged contact), allowing for some slight jostling, meaning the upper stage and the lower stage collided at some point and probably caused the cartwheeling.

      But I'm not a scientist, so don't take my word for it :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      There was no rocket attached to the simulator and hence no method to stabalize it's flight, at least that I what I assumed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Necron69 (35644)

      The upper stage was clearly hit by the first stage and left tumbling after the separation. In the NASA feed, they had several minutes of continued video from the upper stage with a cartwheeling background, but I'm assuming that it had no attitude control. Glad nobody was riding in it.

      Necron69

      • That was expected... (Score:3, Informative)

        by sean.peters (568334)
        The upper stage was unpowered - it was just dead weight that was meant to simulate the mass, moment, strength, etc; of the real first stage. It wasn't meant to do anything but essentially fall off the booster at the end of the flight.
    • by agentgonzo (1026204) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:23PM (#29899563)
      The booster was supposed to fall into a tumble to increase drag so that it wouldn't hit the upper stage simulator (which it may have done anyway). It had rocket motors attached at the base to perform this manoeuvre and you can see these firing at separation. The upper stage simulator (USS) was unguided and little more than a lump of metal to act as the mass of the real upper stage. As such, it's not surprising that it would fall into a tumble after separation, but it seemed to do more-so than people were expecting. This is not a problem as the USS had no parachutes and landed and sank (as intended) in the Atlantic.
    • by ausoleil (322752) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:26PM (#29899619) Homepage

      The booster is supposed to tumble after separation, that is its design. Look at its closest twin, the Shuttle SRBs, and you will notice that they tumble immediately after they are separated.

      That is by design. On the shuttle, ,illiseconds after SRB separation, 16 solid-fueled separation motors, four in the forward section of each SRB and four in the aft skirt of each SRB, are fired for just over one second to help carry the SRB's away from the rest of the Shuttle. Each of the separation motors can produce a thrust of about 22,000 pounds.

      The SRB's continue to ascend in a slow, tumbling motion for about 75 seconds after SRB separation, to a maximum altitude of about 220,000 feet. The SRB's then begin to quickly fall toward the Atlantic Ocean.

      The Ares SRB derivative uses a very similar system. That in mind, 1st stage tumbling is okay.

      As for second stage tumbling, that was almost certainly due to being an unpowered can, for all intents and purposes. While the mockup used in today's flight has the same mass and aerodynamic shape as the real thing, it does not have thrust.

      There may also have been some contact, and it is there that something could well be learned. Could be that a stronger retro motor is needed on the second stage coupled with a stronger sep motor on the 2nd. That will come out in the reports that will be filed later.

      This was a test, after all, and a good one: it proved that Ares can fly. It flew quite well for some time, and it looked smoother than we may have expected. No obvious pogo-ing, for example.

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:30PM (#29900635) Journal

        This was a test, after all, and a good one: it proved that Ares can fly. It flew quite well for some time, and it looked smoother than we may have expected. No obvious pogo-ing, for example.

        Actually it proved that a Space Shuttle SRB coupled with Atlas V avionics and a Peacekeeper missile's roll control can fly. The Ares I is actually an entirely different vehicle with almost nothing in common with what flew today, so it unfortunately doesn't answer questions with regards to things like the pogo-ing effect you describe. I'm sure it was an interesting education experience for NASA in how to design a launch vehicle, though.

    • The simulator was not powered in this test, so I would assusme if it had been it would have had engines that would have fired to cause it to continue it's trajectory and achieve and maintain orbit.
      • The upper stage cannot achieve orbit (or rather, the orbit it "achieves" has a -9km perigee. Yes, folks. 9km below the surface of the Earth). The Orion module that ARES-I is designed to carry has it's own rocket which it will use to get into an actual orbit.
    • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:53PM (#29900941) Homepage

      I'm an aerospace engineer - I work on planes, but the concepts are familiar and common.

      The upper stage DID tumble immediately. The other three aerospace engineers and test pilots watching with me also immediately said "That didn't look right."

      The high-zoom ground tracking camera and onboard cameras showed it much better during the replays, where it's clear the separation wasn't as clean as it should have been. But it did not look like the stages hit each other.

      It appeared that not all eight of the retro-rockets fired. They were designed to slow the first stage enough to separate the two stages, before the "tumble rockets" fired. From the footage, the retro-rocket flame is visibly asymmetrical. It appeared that only a few of the retro-rockets fired on one side of the aft skirt fairing. As a result, I suspect that the initial separation was not purely fore-aft, but included a healthy rotational component which nudged the second "dummy" stage in a similar slow tumble.

      Some comments on this board say "no worries"; the second stage was just an unpowered dummy mass, and the tumble would have been stopped by the final design's engine. Not completely true. They need a clean, non-rotational separation before the second stage engine fires and can fully stabilize the flight path. So the tumble will DEFINITELY concern the engineers.

      Finally, don't worry too much about the onboard cameras cutting in and out. Speaking from personal experience in the flight test industry, telemetry is no trivial matter, and downlinking gigabits/sec of data and video is no small feat. Minor mis-alignments in antenna angle can cause momentary signal dropout. Strong jolts (stage burnout, etc.) can also jostle wiring and cause interruptions.

      Despite this tumble, the flight appeared to be overall a great success. As the launch director noted to his crew shortly after the flight, the only real delays on the first launch of a very complicated test vehicle were weather-induced (plus the small matter of a fabric probe cover sock that snagged on something yesterday). All in all, I'm quite impressed.

  • NASA's new moon rocket makes first test flight [google.com].

    Moon... Ares I... Yeah, let us know how that works out for you.

    *sigh*

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeff4747 (256583)
      The Ares I is designed to get astronauts and crew module into orbit, where they'll dock with another vehicle launched atop an Ares V. Both launch vehicles are part of NASA's plans to go back to the moon. So the headline isn't completely off.
  • Gee.. That's nice....

    I wish NASA would do one of several things:
    1. Concentrate on robotic missions and other non-manned science.
    2. Put together a serious push for a Mars mission.

    Things that I feel are an utter waste of time and money:
    1. Going back to the moon purely to go back.
    2. LEO (Low earth orbit) projects and questionable ISS science fair projects.

    Put together a real push for Mars and get people excited about science and technology again. Or make a real effort in exo-planet research and searching for l

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by RedDrake (73616)

      Well, the way I see it the Ares I is all about a heavy lifting body. That's somthing the shuttle really wasn't ever really capeable of. So to that end I'm very happy.

      Going back to the moon isn't simply to say we could. We no longer have all the experianced people from the 60's and early 70's who ran the first Apollo missions. If we can't make it back to the moon then there is no reason to try for mars. To do a mars mission properly, we have to make sure we still can make it to the moon.

      Between ARES for Lift

      • by Drathos (1092)

        No, Ares V is the heavy lift rocket. Ares I is just for crew launch, low earth orbit stuff.

    • Don't blame NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sean.peters (568334) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:13PM (#29900339) Homepage

      Sad to say, NASA, for the most part has become another government bureaucracy.

      NASA has always been "another government bureaucracy". The difference between the 60's and now: in the 60's, we had 1) a clear goal to aim for, and 2) sufficient funding to achieve the goal. In recent years we've had neither of these things... and that's not NASA's fault, it's the fault of Congress and the President.

      And regarding the space elevator: the laughter has died down, and been replaced with... nothing. That's because there's nothing to talk about. We still don't have the technology to produce carbon nanofibers in anything like the lengths that would be required to build it. Nor do we know if other technical obstacles to building one can be overcome. Nor do we have even the slightest idea what it would cost (and won't until we solve the first two issues). And if you don't know the cost, you can't evaluate whether it's more cost effective than just using rockets. All of which means there's no basis to proceed with a project.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:28PM (#29899657) Homepage Journal

    I was watching the launch with my kids on NASATV, and just when the stages separated, the leading stage started to tumble, and NASATV went black. When they came back in 20 seconds or so, they were following the larger stage on its descent.

    I have to say, the supersonic vapor plume around the rocket during acceleration was awesome. I said to my kids, "look, they just broke the sound barrier," and the announcer came on with "passing Mach 1".

    Very cool looking rocket, more narrow exhaust plume than I'm used to seeing, interesting angled ascent (it didn't go up straight vertically like a shuttle). We like to rag on NASA, but if this is really a an under-3-year project, who am I to cast stones?

    • by Cheeko (165493)

      The blackout was one of the telemetry cameras failing. They mentioned this in one of the press releases.

      I agree though, very elegant looking rocket, and damn was it fast.

      I believe the trajectory was in part due to the fact that they weren't trying to reach orbit, they were just going to 21 miles and letting it fall back to earth over the Atlantic.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @02:00PM (#29900153) Journal

    Some items to note:

    • The rocket [nationalgeographic.com] [nationalgeographic.com] was the tallest [space.com] [space.com] (and possibly most expensive, at $450 million) suborbital rocket ever assembled, consisting of a solid rocket motor from the Space Shuttle and an Atlas V avionics system, with a non-functional upper stage put on top.
    • The Ares I-X has roughly the same shape (but different internal components) compared to NASA's planned medium-lift Ares I, which is scheduled to be completed after 2017 with an estimated cost of $1-$2 billion per launch. A lot of people have been calling this a flight test of the Ares I, but considering how drastically different the Ares I would be in flight, it's really quite a stretch, and it also unfortunately doesn't address any of the biggest potential problems with the Ares I (5-segment booster vibration properties, launch abort survivability, etc.). If anything, it's more similar to a full-size wind tunnel test.
    • Even though the fate of the Ares I itself (and the overall future direction [thespacereview.com] [thespacereview.com] of NASA spaceflight) is uncertain, the >700 sensors on the Ares I-X should provide data useful for validating computer models [spaceflightnow.com] [spaceflightnow.com] used by NASA."
    • For all its faults, it's still worth noting that this is somewhat of an accomplishment for NASA, as its the first new launch vehicle design they've attempted to launch in 30 years, after a long string of failed designs (X-30, X-33, X-34, National Launch System, Space Launch Initiative, Orbital Space Plane). Actually, now that I think about it, the DC-X [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org] successfully launched, although I suppose that was constructed by McDonnell Douglas for the DOD before it was transferred to (and canceled by) NASA. Of course, one could still ask why NASA is trying to internally design a new vehicle when the private sector has a much better track record over the past 30 years of bringing new launch vehicle designs into service, but I imagine it's still been a learning experience for NASA. Hopefully they'll learn the right lessons from it, whatever those are.

    (I largely copied this from a comment I made yesterday, but it still seems pertinent)

  • Given that this test, while useful, didn't actually use any of the components of a man-rated Ares I, I'm not that excited.

    Ares I will use a new 5 segment Solid Rocket Booster (SRB), this was the good old STS 4 segment SRB.
    Ares I will use the J2-x powered upper stage, this was a weight equivalent mock-up.
    Ares I will use the Orion capsule and it's engine to finish up the orbit, again, just a mock-up with right szie and weight.
    Ares I flight control software not built yet, but that's ok, as the hardware it will guide wasn't here either.

    You know when the car companies build a clay mock up of that new model? That's about where this Ares I-x test was. Baby steps are ok, but I was hoping for more return on investment.

    So I'm annoyed that the test program hasn't progressed further, but in reality, this is rocket science, and at least they got the thing off the ground in a reasonable fashion. The problems here go a lot further than my unease that NCSA isn't that far along for the time and money they've already spent. Here's a list of issues that they still have to face in making this a viable launch system:

    What's the lifting capacity of the ARES I? 25mt? That was the declared goal. 24 mt? That was a compromise when other issues crept in. 20 mt? Where the current design is, but Ares I needs 25 mt of lift for an Orion capsule with safety features and lunar capability for 4 crew, and doesn't have it.

    Also, when is the Ares I scheduled to fly with the Orion capsule, even in a non-man-rated test? 2013, as NCSA originally planned? 2016 as the Augustine commission recently claimed?? Before the Space shuttle stops flying? Before the ISS is de-orbited? Be nice for NCSA to have a way to get our astronauts to the ISS without "borrowing a Soyuz."

    More importantly, how much has NCSA spent on the development of the Ares I to date? 5 billion? 6 billion? They still have to finish the 5 segment SRB design and tests, the J-2x Upper stage engine and tests, the new upper stage and tests and the Orion capsule and tests before any manned flights can take place. That's got to be another $5 billion easy. All this to get the lift capacity of an Atlas V or a Delta IV heavy and a theoretical better safety rating.

    Lastly, one reason the Ares I was chosen was that it was supposed to be safer for the crew than any alternative. But there's this- http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/07/death-knell-for-nasas-ares-roc.html [newscientist.com]. I feel sorry for the hard-working engineers at NCSA, and I hope that the new management can get them back on track with a better design.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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