The first – and possibly the last – Ares rocket is set to launch on October 27, following clearance by the Agency Flight Test Readiness Review (FTRR) on Friday. Ares I-X will launch on a two and a half minute powered flight at 8am local time next Tuesday, pending acceptable weather conditions. Engineers will also be tested over the weekend with simulated countdown issues on Saturday.
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With the Augustine Commission’s final report on the future of NASA’s Human Space Flight program confirming earlier findings that the Constellation Program (CxP) is currently heading to a gap of at least seven years between the current end date for the shuttle and the operational capability of Ares I/Orion, a change of direction is the likely option that will be taken by President Obama when the White House decides on one of the Augustine produced options.
While that change of direction won’t come until months after Ares I-X has launched, the $400m test flight is becoming ever-likely to be for a vehicle that will never grace the launch pad.
However, that is no reason to cancel the test flight, not least because it would cost far more money to rollback and destack the vehicle, than it would to launch it. Plus, as stated by the Augustine Commission members, the test flight will gain relevant data for engineers, be it for a rejuvenated Ares I program, or future project.
Five major hardware elements comprise the Ares I-X. These include the First Stage (FS), the mass and OML (Outer Mold Line) simulators of the Upper Stage (US) and Crew Module (CM)/LAS (Launch Abort System), the Roll Control System (RoCS), and the avionics – parts of which are located throughout the vehicle.
The number one primary Ares I-X objective is to demonstrate control of a vehicle dynamically that are similar to the Ares I, using Ares I relevant flight control algorithms. The vehicles use the same overall architecture and augmentation approaches, enabling common design and analysis techniques – via more than 700 sensors embedded into the vehicle.
Recent Ares I-X Articles on NASASpaceflight.com can be found on this link:
Processing at the pad has been eventful over the past few days, as the vehicle undergoes final preparations for launch.
After the vehicle was powered up early on Wednesday to support First Motion checks and APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) hypergolic loads, two non-conformances were noted, though neither were constraints for the Integrated Systems Test (IST) on Thursday.
“The first motion signal was not seen by Eastern Range and SSE (Sound Suppression Engineer). This was due to a ladder logic bit that was not set due to clock timing,” noted processing information on L2. “The bit was set manually and the signal was observed by all parties. This signal will again be observed using nominal clock timing during the IST.
“Timing reported for ignition (of the Hold Down Posts) discharging were not consistent. This was attributed to each system using a different time generator.
“Master Data Unit (MDU) format load was unsuccessful via the remote interface. Currently the only way to load this format would be to connect directly to the MDU. This format was designed to fix drogue chute load cell data measurement and is not a flight requirement. The MDU has been reverted to its previous format load. Denver avionics is evaluating.”
With these issues deemed to be minor, nominal processing continued, with the loading of the vehicle’s hypergolics complete at 17:45 (Wednesday) and the vehicle was powered down at 18:48 local time the same day.
On Thursday, the Integrated Systems Test (IST) and APU hotfire were performed. IST performs a final electrical verification of avionics systems and mission specific checks. It will verify that booster systems are functioning on the fully integrated vehicle,” added the NASA Test Director on processing information.
“Specific testing includes: S Band system power up and open loop checkout with Tel-4. Power On/Off stray voltage checks to verify no current induced on pyro lines prior to pyro connects. 0 dB testing to verify no EMI induced problems on the vehicle or ground systems with active radars.
“Updated: Decom lock at Tel-4 could not be confirmed. Tel-4 does not have decom equipment; however, it could verify frame lock. Flight rationale is that Tel-4 could verify frame lock of all data streams, RPS could verify decom lock of RF source data and hardline data.
“This configuration issue will also affect LCC (Launch Control Center) Tel-01 which requires Tel-4 to verify decom lock. The LCC will be updated to require verification of frame lock at Tel-4 rather than decom lock.”
For the final electrical verification of avionics systems, the vehicle was powered up on Thursday at 09:19 local time in support of the test. All went to plan, with the completion of the APU Hotfire showing no anomalies.
“The engineering team performed power on stray voltage checks on pyro lines to verify no energy was induced within the firing lines. Results were nominal,” added Friday processing information. “S-Band open loop checks were performed successfully. A nominal plus count demonstration was successfully performed.
“With all vehicle transmitters and eastern range tracking radars powered throughout the day, Zero dB tests were performed to verify that there are no EMI affects due to RF sources. Initial review of the data showed that the vehicle and ground systems performed as planned.
“During IST, Developmental Flight Instrumentation (DFI) documented that Air Data Vane 2 is reading -20 degrees and does not change. It appears that this measurement is lost.”
For the weekend, engineers will conduct the final launch countdown simulation, which will involve several problems being presented to engineers during the launch window, in order to test and refine their troubleshooting abilities.
“Launch preparations continue today and through the weekend. The Final Launch Countdown Simulation; Certification Run, is scheduled for tomorrow with CTS (Call To Stations) at 0730. The simulation will include Launch Managers, Prime Launch Team, and multiple Centers working multiple simulated problems in a two hour launch window.
“Weekend work: Ares I-X Launch Countdown Simulation Certification Run Saturday, Ordnance installation (Sunday), Launch preps.”
L2 members: Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size.