Ares hardware arrives at Kennedy

By Phil Plait | November 4, 2008 1:00 pm

Update: Turns out there’s more to this story. Go see Universe Today for the scoop.

The first major flight hardware for the Ares-1 rocket arrived via barge at Kennedy Space Center this week. It’s an upper stage simulator, basically a shell with the same size and weight of an actual second stage. It’ll be mated with a lower stage and launched to test out the system.

Drawing of NASA’s Ares-1 rocket

I was amazed to see that test launch is scheduled for July 12 of next year! Then I had to smile: I keep thinking of Ares (and the Shuttle retirement) as happening some time in the nebulous future, but in fact the Shuttle retires in just a year and a half from now. And so Ares test flights need to start soon, the sooner the better. Somehow all this slipped away from my conscious mind. The Shuttle has been flying since 1981, most of my life (I remember the first launch of Columbia, back when I was in high school). It’s hard to imagine that it all ends so soon.

But I’m glad NASA is getting their act together on this. Both Presidential candidates — and I only need to write it that way until the end of the day, phew! — have promised extra cash for NASA to help get Ares on track, and I think in the end that’s a good thing.

<font size="-2"Drawing of Ares-1 rocket courtesy NASA.


Comments (34)

  1. I STILL need to get my butt down there to see a launch in person. I was going to be at the launch for the Hubble repair mission, but we all know what happened with that.

    Need to show more Ares V pictures. That thing is a BEAST!

  2. Kel

    Is it just me that thinks it resembles a blood-filled syringe?

  3. I’m hopeful but highly skeptical that NASA will be able to launch Ares in 251 days… When project engineers are resigning at this point in the juncture — over the excessive thrust oscillation problem — a big red flag pops up in my mind.

    What remains to be seen, of course, is if that red flag has any merit.

  4. Is there way to get tickets or something when they finally launch the thing on a mission? Whatever you think of missions to Mars, it would be freakin’ cool to be there when it happens. So what, is there like a line or something?

  5. No tickets required The Chemist! :) There are some things you can get “tickets” to, but if you find a nice public spot, it’s all quite easy to watch. Of course, to get to the heralded press areas, you need to be someone. Wonder if I can do a Dr. Plait impersonation?

  6. Gordan

    Dave, it’s not just the thrust oscillation problem. There’s the (relatively) new issue of Ares I hitting the launch tower – and I’m not talking about the winds, either. The way thrust vector control is implemented in the SRB means at ignition it can shove the rocket sideways and then the guidance system has to counteract, FAST. In the process the umbilical tower is bound to get scorched by some nasty chemical exhaust too, probably requiring major maintenance after each launch.

    A major redesign of the tower-pad location is bound to be required to resolve the probability of hitting the tower. More money, more delays. Don’t believe NASA when they downplay this issue as merely due to winds, it’s not.

    IMHO, Ares I is about the biggest mistake NASA could have done, trying to use the shuttle booster in a role it was never meant to fulfill. If it ever flies and becomes operational, it’ll be more expensive than and EELV for the same performance, more uncomfortable for the crew (you can’t beat solid boosters when it comes to providing a rough ride) and plus it just looks WRONG. They say “if it looks right, it’ll fly right”. You tell me if this thing looks right…

  7. 1981…”most of your life”. psh, I’ve got you beat. The current life of the shuttle is equal to 90% of the time I’ve spent practicing heliocentrism.

  8. justcorbly

    Last time I looked into it, it was really difficult booking a hotel/motel room close to the date of a scheduled Shuttle mission. Factor in the chance of the launch slipping, as well.

    Anyone know if things have changed?

  9. Your Name's Not Bruce?

    I just wish that Ares looked cooler. It looks like a stick. No fins, no strap-on boosters, no nuthin’. I sure miss the Saturn V and 1b. Even Gemini-Titan looked cooler than this thing. But I’ll be happy when it flies.

    Yes, I know some will say “but wait a minute; Gemini-Titan looked kinda like a stick too.” I never said I was consistent.

    I think they need to make the new lander look more interesting too. I know that what it’s gonna do has inherent coolness, but I do wish it looked cool too.

  10. Can’t help you there justcorbly. I have the benefit of being able to use the Patrick AFB VOQ. And there could be camping facilities if you really want to rough it and not have to depend on hotels.

  11. chief

    In regards to the ship hitting the tower during liftoff. Why not take a page from the russians. Tilt the tower back out of the way.

  12. Jim


    Sorry, I’m not really up on all the hardware details – is this thrust vector control issue something new that just popped up with Ares? I mean, if it was always present in the SRBs, how did NASA deal with it on the shuttle? Seems like a big thing to miss…

  13. Tom

    Ares 1-X is about as far from being an actual test flight as it’s possible to be. It won’t be the new 5-segment solid rocket. It won’t have a 2nd stage. There won’t be another flight test for many years. Do not be fooled – this is a feel-good launch that has little developmental benefit.

  14. justcorbly

    Chief, I suspect they’d need to build a brand new tower.

  15. billsmithaz

    When I was in 4th grade, we lived in North Carolina. We took vacation time, drove down to Florida and camped on the beach to watch the Apollo 17 launch live. Very, very, very, very, very cool.

    In late 1980, I moved to Arizona to go to college. A friend and I took vacation and drove to California to watch the first shuttle landing that was open to the public. Just as cool.

    I’ll have to find some way to attend an Ares launch someday.

  16. I don’t envision there being much difficulty finding a hotel room in the vicinity of Cocoa Beach/Titusville. It isn’t like this is the first shuttle launch. Is this launch some sort of historical that I don’t know about? I think anyone wanting to go see it launch would be able to find accommodations without much fuss. Hotel prices in the immediate vicinity are sometimes jacked up the day before the launch, but that’s demand based, I guess. Even if there are large crowds, the launch can be seen for hundreds of miles, so stay farther away and drive in for the launch.

    If you come from far away, you might plan to stay for a few days in case the launch is scrubbed but rescheduled for the next day.

  17. That’s the tallest, skinniest white elephant I’ve ever seen. I hope the new administration hurries up and gives us a heavy lift transport system that is affordable and reliable.

  18. BR

    Phil, it’s worth noting that any further delays in STS-125 will continue to push back the Ares-I-X test because they use the same pad. Also, there’s much skepticism among the spaceflight community about whether the flight will actually give any useful data about actual Ares performance: it uses a 4 segment booster when the actual rocket will use 5, as well as using mass simulators for the upper stage and spacecraft.

  19. justcorbly

    Lab, Ares-5, the big Ares, is intended to be the heavy lift vehicle.

  20. Gordan

    justcorbly Says: “Lab, Ares-5, the big Ares, is intended to be the heavy lift vehicle.”

    All those who actually believe Ares V isn’t going to get canned raise their hands.

    The way things are progressing right now, the U.S. will be left with a bloated and inefficient Ares I and stuck in low Earth orbit. If NASA went with the DIRECT proposal which is basically just one vehicle design that could fulfill both LEO/ISS duty and Moon/Mars missions the Constellation program wouldn’t be in jeopardy. Instead of two launches of the same vehicle, NASA chose to go for a huge beast meant to do ALL the heavy work (and it’s struggling to get that performance even on paper) and a bottle rocket, the Ares I. That’s still TWO launches in the end.

    Cancel the long pole in the tent, the Ares V and it’s goodbye Moon, hello LEO again. It’s saddening. With DIRECT they wouldn’t be able to cancel it because without that one single vehicle design there’d be NO U.S. manned launch vehicle. No one would allow that.

    The most ironic part about the DIRECT proposal is it would have reduced the U.S. manned flight gap after Shuttle retirement to non-existent. Right now you’re looking at what – 4 years minimum? Pretty irrational decisions on NASAs top management if you ask me. They didn’t start calling the Ares V “The Griffin” for nothing.

  21. Utakata

    Caption should read: The last thing this pilot saw.

  22. chief

    justcorbly, I suspect that the current tower(s) are to be heavy modified to exit the shuttle era. ie, don’t need the payload “tower” to mate to the shuttle. I also think that the height will be a issue.

  23. Justcorby, that’s my point. Ares 1 duplicates the performance of existing launch vehicles, but with a heavy-lift budget. That money could have been spent on Shuttle-C, or DIRECT, or a modernization of Saturn. Instead they’ve decided to throw away a functioning heavy lift system in favor of a radical new design that will bankrupt the agency just like the shuttle did in the 80’s. You’d think they would have learned from that experience, but the Ares program combines the worst mistakes of both the Shuttle and the Saturn development processes. What is the point of losing another decade building yet another heavy launch system that is too expensive to be sustainable and too inflexible to perform multiple missions?

  24. justcorbly

    Are there, in fact, current — flying — man-rated vehicles capable of handling the mission of Ares 1?

  25. Gordan

    Man-rated? No. Then again, Ares I is neither man-rated nor flying yet, either.

    Delta IV Heavy is one candidate, it’s flying already and Atlas V Heavy (not yet flying) is another. Both would be vastly cheaper per launch than an Ares I, especially the Atlas option (neglecting development cost).

  26. Also the Russian and Chinese vehicles.
    And previous Atlas rockets were obviously man-rated- e.g. John Glenn.

  27. justcorbly

    Lab, I discount anything not in today’s inventory, since we are talking about “existing” vehicles.

    The odds that the U.S. would craft a Lunar and Martian mission that was dependent on Chinese and Russian vehicles is something less than zero. Besides, the Russian have nothing in the Ares 5 category and I’d need to be convinced that any existing Chinese vehicle could meet the requirements for Ares 1.

  28. For someone who lived through the shuttle program going from “this will produce a reliable ‘space truck’ that will get things into orbit for $100 a pound and fly every two weeks” to “well, it’s *mostly* reliable – if we have a few thousand technitions go over it every time and we’re almost sure it costs less per pound than a ‘throw away’ rocket”, this is deja-vu all over again.

    “Yeah, let’s base our only rocket system on a part of the shuttle system that has already demonstrated it can destroy a shuttle. That sounds good!”

    IMHO, solid rockets should *never* be man-rated. Let me clarify: Never, Never, *Ever* be man-rated. And this one’s got it as the first – and most important – stage. How dumb is that?

  29. Elmar_M

    If I had to bet I would say that Falcon 9 and Dragon will put humans into orbit before Ares1 will. I have very little confidence in this thing. I also find the design a little backwards?…
    I mean von Braun would be quite disapproving, I presume…

  30. Elmar_M says: “I mean von Braun would be quite disapproving, I presume…”

    You might be right there, von Braun historically didn’t like solid boosters at all as they have crappy performance and give a hell of a rough ride.

    justcorbly: The point is U.S. has at their disposal vehicles which *can* put Orion into orbit. They’re both EELVs (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) and ANY upgrade required to man-rate them (Atlas, as was said, would be easier to man-rate) would cost *vastly* less than what NASA is spending on their own little bottle rocket. We are talking BILLIONS here.

    Then again, it’s your tax money so have it what you like…

  31. lars bruchmann

    Right there with you Phil! I was in 2nd grade as I recall, when Columbia launched, and my parents let me stay home, or I was sick (cough-cough). I distinctly remember that, and the landing a few days later. Now I’m 37 and we’re going back to the rockets that I played with made of Lego years before….

  32. Charles Boyer

    Hate to rain on your parade, Phil, but there’s a distinct possibility that Obama may not build Ares in its current form.

    A former chairman of the House science committee told Brevard County leaders Monday that NASA’s next rocket is “on the chopping block” and that a new administration may abandon the Ares I as successor to the space shuttle.

    The next president may look instead to use military rockets to launch NASA astronauts, said Robert Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who, as a Washington-based lobbyist, represents Brevard County.

    Walker told county commissioners; U.S. Reps. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, and Dave Weldon, R-Indialantic; and representatives of the local aerospace community that the word in Washington and at recent space conferences was “that Ares I could be on the chopping block.”

    Afterward, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, he elaborated: “The discussion I am hearing in the space community is that Ares will certainly be reviewed by the next administration.”

    I think it long past time to reconsider Ares 1X and find a better launch system. Ares is starting to have the smell of boondoggle: late, overpriced and with less capability than advertised.

    It’s really time to give EELV, Direct and private initiatives another close look before making further investment into Ares. EELV is the closest system to launch capability. D4-Heavy could well be modified to fit an Ares capsule on it. Direct may have more promise than EELV or Ares. Or, a better Ares design may be found.

    Ares V — no problem. The Stick, however, stinks, and I don’t care what Michael Griffin tells you. Talk to the engineers building it, and I do, and a great deal of them will give you their grave concerns about the potential for success of the project.

    In the meantime, keep the damned Shuttle flying.

  33. Paul A.

    Every time I see the Ares I think its just a bigger Apollo spacecraft. My next thought is why isn’t this a step backward? I watched rockets like this launch from the sixties onward, I thought the reusable shuttle was big progress. What happened to all our plans for spaceplanes?

  34. Every once in a while, someone I respect will say something that makes me think “Woah! Cognitive dissonance!” You remember the Shuttle launches from your childhood? Wow, I’m older than the Bad Astronomer!

    I remember the entire space program, or nearly so. I was born at roughly the same moment that the Russians launched Sputnik II. Warped me forever, that did. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the Shuttle… I never missed whatever TV coverage any space mission got once I was old enough to change the channel on our family TV set. I just turned 51 earlier this week, and still nothing thrills me like seeing we puny humans shove the barriers of our ignorance aside and taking a giant leap into the unknown- in order to make it into the known. I eagerly await the advances we have yet to make within my lifetime. The future can’t come quickly enough. I want to see my children and grandchildren walk on the surface of other worlds, to fulfill the human ambition of finding out what wonders await beyond the limits of our vision, but not beyond the limits of our imaginations.


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