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ATK readies Ares I first stage engineering test units

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is now putting NASA's Ares I crew launch vehicle first stage components through dimensional checks and verification at its Utah facilities to prepare for the shipping of full-scale engineering simulation articles to the US space agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in March 2008 for loads testing and motor analysis.

The Ares I will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle capsule, which will carry six astronauts to the International Space Station and four-crew on lunar missions. In December 2005 NASA selected ATK to be the prime contractor for the design and development of the first-stage.

The first stage is a five-segment solid rocket booster derived from the four-segment Space Shuttle reusable solid rocket motors (RSRM) developed and produced by ATK.

The company is primarily using existing RSRM hardware for the new stage but to increase performance and meet the Ares I's different flight profile the propellant grain in the first stage's forward section has had its shape changed and its nozzle throat diameter made larger. Tooling for the new propellant shape and components for the new nozzle are being manufactured.

"The project is on track to conduct ground and flight tests scheduled to begin in 2009," says ATK's Launch Systems division president Ron Dittemore, referring to NASA's plans for a second quarter 2009 flight test of a four-segment Ares I first stage with a dummy second stage and Orion capsule.

ATK has also made two mock-ups of the Ares I first stage's forward skirt, a section located between the first and second stages, to simulate the physical space available for the Ares I's avionics to help determine the optimal required space and placement of the electronics.

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