Ares I-X test flight facing uncertain launch date

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NASA's Ares I-X flight mission team does not expect its test rocket to be launched before June 2009 after the US space agency announced on 29 September an indefinite delay for the Hubble space telescope's fourth servicing mission (SM4) planned for 14 October.

The launch of the Ares I-X, a rocket representative of NASA's Constellation programme's Ares I crew launch vehicle (CLV), was to have taken place on 15 April from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39B. Its ascent will give NASA data on the dynamics of the "stick", as Ares I is known, an unusually long and thin vehicle that will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle.

However, SM4 requires two Space Shuttles to be on Kennedy's launch pads, 39A and 39B, to prepare for any possible rescue of the Hubble visiting orbiter. NASA needs to modify pad 39B for Ares I-X and its use by a Shuttle will delay that. The SM4 mission has been deferred because part of the telescope's data transfer system failed and NASA wants to send a replacement unit.

Speaking at the 59th International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow on 1 October, Ares I-X deputy mission manager Stephan Davis said the Hubble mission "would fly January or February or later. We don't know yet if we can work around it. It will probably move us into the early summer timeframe. I don't know if it will be later than that."

A delay to June from April had been rumoured because of Shuttle launch date changes and related logistical and safety issues. NASA has said that the Ares I-X launch is necessary before the CLV's critical design review planned for March 2011.

The agency declared a completed Ares I preliminary design review on 10 September, but a delta-preliminary design review is still set for next year because of the ongoing thrust oscillation problem with the CLV's first stage.


Watch an Ares I-X presentation given by the test flight's deputy mission manager Stephan Davis at the International Astronautical Congress 2008 on Rob Coppinger's Hyperbola blog