NASA plans 15 April 2009 Ares I-X flight test

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NASA's Ares I-X test flight of a four-segment solid rocket motor with a dummy fifth segment, upper stage and payload will take place on 15 April 2009, sources at NASA Glenn Research Center have told Flight.

NASA GRC is fabicating the Ares I-X dummy upper stage. The new specific date will see the first test flight for this representative hardware for the US space agency's Ares I crew launch vehicle, which will orbit the four- to six-crew Orion crew exploration vehicle for International Space Station and Moon missions.

However, the requirements of other parts of the Constellation return-to-the-Moon programme have left as uncertain the date for Ares I-Y, the second test flight. NASA administrator Michael Griffin, speaking at the 22 January Space Transportation Association event in Washington DC, said of a leaked test flight delay memo from Constellation development programme manager Jeffrey Hanley that he expects "changes in our intermediate milestones".

NASA has already slipped its Ares I first-stage preliminary design review by six months "to better synchronise [with] Constellation schedules". Since that PDR delay, Griffin has said of recent media reports about the Ares I first-stage oscillation issue: "In my 37 years in the space industry, I've rarely seen more of a mountain made out of less of a molehill."

NASA has formed a "focus team" to analyse the oscillation issue, says Garry Lyles, engineering associate director at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, where the Ares project office is based. Oscillation caused by resonant burning at the later stages of the first stage's flight might cause vibrations that damage the CEV.

Lyles told Flight: "It is early in the design process. We've assembled an oscillation team including some of the best experts in the world. It is a great opportunity to determine the real impact of the problem. Altering the inhibitor in the propellant grain is one solution. We have some other teams looking at other [Ares I] problems."