REALSPACE: Ares 1-X - was it a success or a failure?

Republibot 3.0
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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON 11/26/09

Yes, yes, I know I've been doing a lot of this "Realspace" stuff this week, but thi one's pertinent, and we'll get back to the fake stuff tomorrow: Back in October, NASA launched the Ares 1-X rocket. For those of you who don't follow the real space program, here's the deal:

The Space Shuttle is being retired in 2010, after a largely ineffectual 29-year career as our only manned spacecraft. According to the Constellation project, forwarded by Congress and President Bush II back in the day, the Shuttle will be replaced by two spacecraft, an HLLV - the Ares V - which is not man-rated, and the Ares I - which is man rated. To get in to orbit, we'll launch an Ares I with an Orion capsule on top, and a crew, and they'll dock with the ISS or do their orbital mission, or rendezvous with an Ares V, at which point they'll go on to the moon. It's a little awkward, but doable.

If I have a major complaint with the Ares rockets, it's simply that they're relying too heavily on Shuttle-Era hardware which never worked all that great in the first place. This is a money-saving decision to keep the pork in place and maintain as much of the existing infrastructure as possible, but it results in things like the Ares-1, which is ugly as hell, and potentially frequently dangerous. You see, the first stage of the Ares 1 is a shuttle SRB.

It's been super-attenuated to have five segments instead of four, and of course the second stage being bigger than the first stage means the thing *wants* to cartwheel its but all over the sky, and only a buttload of computers are preventing it from doing so. And being an SRB, it's an amazingly rough ride. Early tests suggest that just the shaking alone might be fatal for the crew, and even if it's not, the thing is inescapable in the event of an accident http://www.republibot.com/content/realspaceares-i-inescapable-within-fir...

So there's concerns. It'd be easier, frankly, just to ditch the first stage and design a new LRB from scratch.

Anyway, the first test-launch of an Ares I was...uhm...not exactly hitch-free. Check this out, particularly around the 2:19 mark:

Yikes! It's really not supposed to tumble like that!

Now, this was a first test, and it wasn't even a full-dress rehearsal - the upper stage was a boilerplate, and the SRB itself was actually just a traditonal 4-segment piece gussied up as a 5-segment one to test out the aerodynamics in flight, but even still: that's a bit spooky. Added to which, recovery of the spent 1st stage went horribly horribly wrong: http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/091030-ares-1x-parachute-update.html

If you'd like more info on the Ares 1, here's a good place to start: http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/aresi.htm and Wiki's got some great stuff to. Check out their section on pad damage caused by the launch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ares_I-X

We now return you to our regular fantasyworld stuff.

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