Ares I-X slips to September 18 as processing edges towards stacking

by Chris Bergin

The Ares I-X test vehicle is scheduled to begin stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the end of the month, despite continued slips to the launch date – the latest of which places Ares I-X as lifting off from Pad 39B NET (No Earlier Than) September 18.

Ares I-X Latest:

The launch of the four segment booster, along with a dummy Upper Stage and boilerplate Orion, has a price tag of several hundred million dollars, which has leant to a level of criticism, given the test flight fails to resemble the five segment Ares I vehicle for which it is tasked with gaining data.

However, with its fifth inactive segment, it will have a similar mass to Ares I, along with a mirrored flight profile to allow for some data to be gathered on the vehicle’s flight control system performance.

t2Also, how the vehicle performs during Max Q and other high loading aerodynamic stresses during ascent will be key in vindicating computational models being used on Ares I’s design cycles.

Processing of the vehicle is closing in on stacking inside the VAB, with the recent milestone of mating the dummy Crew Module (CM) with the non-functioning Launch Abort System (LAS) resulting in electrical “liveliness” testing – which is near completion inside High Bay 4.

“VAB Transfer Aisle: Aft/Center-XL-550, FSAM/Aft/Center: DFI Liveliness Test is in work. Aft-XL-405, FSAM/Aft: Card Installation and Cable Mates are in work,” noted the latest daily processing information on L2.

“VAB High Bay 4: CM/LAS Liveliness testing is approx 90 percent complete with good results. W.O. operation will perform click bond removal/installation for the Jiffy-Junctions and wire routing located at the 0 Degree Closeout Panel.”

With work spread around the Transfer Aisle and High Bays 3 and 4, the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP-1) – recently acquired by the Constellation Program (CxP) – is on a timeline to be ready to receive the opening elements of Ares I-X on June 19, which is later than previously scheduled.

First Stage stacking is scheduled to begin on June 30, to be followed by the stacking of the Upper Stage elements on July 24.

t3“Ares I-X Status – The team continues to make good progress toward launch. Forward Skirt Extension mating and Frustrum FSE (Flight Support Equipment) mate were very significant accomplishments,” noted a recent update via the MOD (Mission Operations Directorate) 8th Floor News memo on L2.

“The forward assembly of Ares I-X is currently projected to be complete on June 19 vs. a need date of June 1. This results in a threat of a day for day slip (based on the previous August 30th launch date), but the team is working to try to improve the schedule, including not slipping the mate review date of June 30.

“At mate review the schedule impacts will be known and a new launch date will be set.

“All Acceptance reviews are progressing well and the CoFR (Certification of Flight Readiness) endorsements are progressing well. MOD will CoFR its day of launch support through the Constellation Operations Test and Integration Office (Cx OTI).”

Integrated testing of the stacked vehicle will take place throughout August, prior to rollout to Pad 39B on September 14 – just four days ahead of the newly scheduled launch date. Any delay to stacking the vehicle on the MLP is likely to result in the launch date slipping yet further. It has been known for some months that the realistic launch date for Ares I-X would be around October.

Meanwhile, MOD have already set up their plans to support the Ares I-X launch, following meetings that started back in April. Their support will be via the consoles in the Mission Control Center – as per usual for all KSC launches – although the Ares I-X flight itself will be controlled from the Firing Room at the Kennedy Space Center.

“MOD and the Ares I-X project have finalized the MOD support for that test flight. The Ares I-X SE&I Review Forum (SERF) and the Ares Engineering Review Board (ERB) met April 24th and approved MOD’s plans to provide support to the Ares I-X Day-of-Launch team from the MCC in Houston.

“MOD’s plans to support this mission from the MCC in “flight following” mode. Flight Design personnel will also provide an independent trajectory and load indicator assessment from the White MPSR (Multi-Purpose Support Room) in B30S on launch day.

“The MOD assessment will be passed to the LaRC (Langley) team in Hangar AE at the CCAFS (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) for inclusion in their overall go/no-go call to the NTD (NASA Test Director).

“An MOD representative will be posted to Hangar AE on launch day to facilitate this communication. The launch support teams for this test flight plan a minimum of five DOL simulations prior to the actual test flight to sort through operational details and verify the balloon assessment timeline.”

Ares I-Y Latest:

It’ll be at least two more years before the next test flight, via what is known as Ares I-Y – which will be a five segment booster, mirroring the actual Ares I First Stage configuration. However, as the Constellation Program attempt to balance their budget, along with issues related to schedule disconnects, this test flight is currently on the chopping board.

“Mission Ops Project Control Board Status: In response to the recently reported CxP Content Scrub to potentially delete test flight Ares 1-Y, the Mission Ops PCB (Program Control Board) Chair assigned an action to all divisions to provide the Division’s test flight strategy for risk mitigation should this flight be scrubbed,” added another recent 8th Floor News memo (L2).

This action came after Ares I manager Jeff Hanley’s point-by-point list of actions that he recommended to the Program as a whole, in order to try and protect the Ares I/Orion manned launch schedule within the 2015 IOC (Initial Operational Capability) target.

t4An initial decision point is due on June 10 at the Constellation Top Risk Review meeting.

Should managers decide to cull the Ares I-Y flight, it is likely to be replaced by what is currently known as Ares I-X Prime.

This vehicle would still allow for high altitude abort testing, but on a refined – and advanced – schedule, removing funding and timeline pressures from the Orion 1 test flight, and ultimately the Orion 2 manned debut of the new launch system.

L2 members: Documentation – from which most of the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size

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