Ares team pressing forward with plans for Ares I-X Prime flight, for now

by Chris Bergin

Despite apparently failing to be short listed for President Obama’s upcoming decision on the forward path for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, the Ares I teams are pushing forward with new plans to follow up the Ares I-X test flight with a 2012 to 2013 flight of Ares I-X Prime – a replacement test launch for the cancelled Ares I-Y flight.

Ares I-X:

The Constellation team responsible for the opening test flight of the Ares I program launched the four segment I-X booster with dummy upper stage and boilerplate Orion on Oct 28 – which was mainly a large success.

The number one primary Ares I-X objective was to demonstrate control of a vehicle dynamically 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.

Three post-flight reviews are taking place to evaluate the data that has been gained from the launch, with the first review now complete.

“We will have 30, 60, and 90-day reports to show what we’ve learned thus far. There should be a press conference in December to talk about what we’ve seen in first 30 days,” noted Ares I-X Deputy Manager Steve Davis on an extensive mission review memo acquired by L2.

“We are working to retrieve the flight data. We are expecting to retrieve most (if not all) of it. We have two ways to get data: (1) telemetry where data is sent to the ground and (2) data that was recorded on board.

“Even though we came down hard (first stage hitting the water hard), no water damage got to the data recorder. We are going through it now stripping off the data.”

A5The parachute failure – resulting in one parachute fully deflating during deployment, along with interference with a second parachute – resulted in the first stage impacting the water at an angle, and at high speed. This dented the side of the booster.

“The parachute failed, and we think it was because of a parachute cutter failure. When the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) lands, there is a cutter to cut away the chutes so there is not a danger to the divers who are part of the recovery team that bring the SRB back,” added Mr Davis. “It looks like one of the cutters broke, and when the loads distributed on the remaining lines, they failed.”

Despite the hard landing, most of the DFI (Developmental Flight Instrumentation) sensors gained the required data from the ascent, which will be priceless for the continued development of the vehicle.

“In one area, we saw belching; smoke coming out of nozzle on first stage. Some may have gotten down to sensors. Nothing other than that indicates a problem, but we really don’t know yet. (However, we collected) probably terabytes of data. We had 711 sensors. A few didn’t make it. Most did.”

Data was also collected on the Ares I issue of Thrust Oscillation, though further work is required until the full data overview is forthcoming – likely to be within days.

“It looks like the thrust oscillation is in the range of the lower Shuttle levels measured on the SRBs,” added the memo. “Without any data, very preliminary, it looks like it is at the lower, much more reasonable levels, but we won’t know until we analyze the data. We put in special sensitive sensors to measure it.

“We had high sampling rate pressure sensors in the upper part of first stage to measure thrust oscillation. These should have captured some really good data. The Systems Engineering and Integration function is at Langley Research Center. For two days a week, we look at data.”

A2Ares I-X managers also confirmed that the separation between the First and Upper Stages was nominal, after the stages “appeared” to recontact and send the Upper Stage spinning sideways. The question on if the event was nominal was actually posed by engineers in the Q&A section of the mission overview memo.

“Yes (it was nominal). We ballasted the upper stage. We predicted this. Our 2nd stage was a dummy. Our dynamic pressure was 10 times what you’ll see (on Ares I), and we had a different separation point,” Mr Davis answered.

“The separation we saw was in the realm of possibilities. It wasn’t unexpected to us. The engineers put animation together that showed this before the launch.

Other parts of the ascent produced good results, such as the RoCS (Roll Control System) – which was required to pulse less times to control the vehicle than expected.

“The roll control system fired only minimally as the vehicle rolled very little. We got that data early. It shows the thrust firings over time. We had firings in the 15 to 20 second time up front to orient in the astronauts head-down condition that we expect to see in flight. After that, a couple of minor pulses,” added the memo.

“We rolled 90 degrees to get the vehicle in a position where if there were a crew on board, the astronaut’s heads would be in a downward position. We didn’t have to do it, but it was requested that we do. We wanted the aerodynamics of the vehicle to be in the right orientation, the closest orientation to what the Ares I will fly with crew on board.”

A3Pad 39B was also damaged by Ares I-X’s launch profile, which saw it – as designed – kick out its first stage towards the Fixed Service Structure (FSS) during the first few seconds of ascent.

With the plume impacting on the pad’s structure, a large amount of damage was found once engineers returned to the pad.

A separate 51 page presentation, also acquired by L2, outlined both the status of the pad, and modifications that will be made to the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) Sound Suppression System (SSS) to help reduce the amount of damage on the next test flight.

“More damage observed than Shuttle at 95′ Level. No major damage observed at 115′ Level. No damage observed at and above 135′ Level,” the presentation noted, whilst adding “Ares I-X caused more damage than Shuttle; acoustic level seemly louder than Shuttle.”

A4However, this is not a major problem – given the pad won’t be used for another flight for several years. Plus, Ares I-Y (or Ares I-X Prime as is now likely to be the case) will utilize a beefed up SSS.

“I-X SSS: Not effective. 3-sides of deck surface uncovered. Vulnerable to plume damage. Piping exterior to MLP deck,” the presentation added. “I-Y (I-X Prime) SSS: 60ft diameter coverage in all directions. Piping interior to LM. No Structure Damage Expected!”

Overall, the Ares I-X test flight was a success, although Time magazine appeared to get a little carried away, pointing to Ares I as the best invention of the year (despite the low-end commonality between I-X and Ares I). Regardless, this provided a nice morale boost to the Constellation Program management, and welcomed praise for NASA.

“I was so excited about Ares coming out as Time magazine’s number one invention. Nobody on our team had a clue that this was being considered as one of the top inventions by Time. It also made the front-page article of The Huntsville Times, above the fold,” added Constellation manager Bob Armstrong on the mission review memo.

“It proves the hard work of this team for the last four years has been valuable, and to be recognized says a huge thing about this team. Give yourself a hand. This is really awesome. I haven’t stopped smiling or bragging since I heard about the Time article. I got emails all day from folks who saw the article. It’s really a big deal. I can’t describe how cool it really is. A big part is what we’ve done on Ares I, but also the significance of the Ares I-X test flight.”

Recent – over the past one year period – Ares I-X Articles on can be found on this link:

Ares I-X Prime:

First suggested by Ares I manager Jeff Hanley as part of his multi-point plan to try and keep Ares I/Orion on a 2015 launch date, Ares I-Y is being deleted from the Constellation schedule, to be replaced by Ares I-X Prime – a five segment First Stage booster version of Ares I-X, with further advancements – such as on the Upper Stage, Orion and Launch Abort System (LAS) testing – yet to be confirmed.

A6“At Constellation Program (Level II) board, we decided to delete the Ares I-Y test flight from the manifest. Approval has to be done at Level I by ESMD (Exploration Systems Mission Directorate). We assume Level I will approve it and we’ve stopped work on Ares I-Y,” noted Teresa Vanhooser, Acting Manager of the Ares Project Office.

“Our rationale involved timeliness. Ares I-Y was too late to impact the Orion I or Orion II design. It required unique software builds. A whole ‘uniqueness’ that took the team off the baseline. Lots of discussion around this; whether it was smart to spend dollars on keeping the team on the Program of Record, rather than on doing drawings and software for Ares I-Y.

“After this decision was made, the discussion centered on doing something earlier to influence the design in the 2012 timeframe. We’re still looking at test objectives and what hardware is available. We are considering what part of mainline program we can put in to an Ares I-X prime flight that will gain something in the final design. Send us your ideas. We are looking for creative thought processes on what we can do and how we can do it.”

The aim is to have Ares I-X Prime set for an early 2012 launch date, although that schedule remains fluid – based on the availability of hardware and funding.

“January 2012 is only 25 months from now. That’s the goal. I (want) the team stays focused toward the baseline. I don’t want to divert manpower in to doing something else. The agency is focused on doing another test flight. We need to make it valuable to Ares I and Constellation.”

Due to the budget decisions that are being worked on by lawmakers, the approval of Ares I-X Prime as a confirmed test flight is yet to become fully official – as Constellation continue to battle against limited funding.

“We are still under a continuing resolution through mid-December. It will probably go through mid-January. I doubt anything will be approved before then. That limits the amount of funding. Level II is trying to distribute it equally across projects to keep everybody running,” added Ms Vanhooser.

“There is no fluff. It is minimal. It covers workforce and a few hardware bills incurred in August/September where bills don’t come in until October/November. We are frozen at FY09 levels and are not able to ramp to where we need to be for FY10. Be patient. As soon as the President passes the budget, we will hopefully get back on plan.

“We are trying to put a schedule compliant budget together under the constraints we are under. We will continue to work hard decisions back through the elements. We will make sure we keep critical items in mind that we want to get done for FY10.”

Questions followed from engineers on the design and test parameters of Ares I-X Prime, along with the team makeup and what appears to be a tight schedule.

“Ares I-X prime is very early in the planning stage. Vehicle Integration Office will coordinate the Ares Project office Ares I-X prime activities. We will try to get planning done by mid-December. We want to have a set of objectives, how organization would work, and a plan,” noted the answers, which were delivered by several managers.

“We will probably not have a separate Ares I-X organization again. This time, we may have a broader organization. The flight may involve some Orion hardware.

A7“We would want a 5-segment first stage. It will be up to us to help define what it is and what we can have available, even if it is development hardware, rather than production hardware. We’d like to see our roll control system and a more representative separation system. I heard someone say frangible joint would be great to test. We will try to get as much in as possible to replicate the real flight design.”

Also stated was the need for additional room in the budget to be able to achieve the next test flight within the proposed schedule, given the test flight vehicles – apart from the now cancelled Ares I-Y vehicle – lack full commonality with the Ares I baseline vehicle.

“There has to be extra dollars to go with this. If you build tuna cans (the dummy Upper Stage), you need extra dollars. It is not in the baseline program. All this is contingent on a lot of things. We need to have our plan ready if they have the money and want us to go to it,” the answers continued.

“Was surprised they wanted to fly that early in 2012. It’s 2012 and 2013 that they are looking at it. (We will) want the team to have an idea by Christmas. Then in January/February, it will need to become part of our budget and planning process. We’ve really got to have it by then to get it in the budget.”

Ares I’s future:

A cloud continues to hang over the Ares Program’s future, following the Augustine report into NASA’s Human Space Flight program – which noted that the “Program Of Record” (Namely Ares I/Orion and Ares V) are on an “unsustainable” path.

Constellation workers asked managers for any insights into the timing of the White House decisions on the fate of Ares I and Orion.

“Not much insight. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) directors have been to OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) and OMB (Office of Management and Budget) several times. No idea when we would know anything. I would say by the time we get a budget in January some decision will have to be made to put budget out. My hope is after the first of the year, we will have a direction to head in,” came back the answer.

“In the meantime, (our) job is the current project and getting it done. We will provide all the relative data they need to make their decision. We want to make sure they have what they need to make the right decision for the agency and the country.”

While face-to-face meetings are set to take place on December 1, relating to the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLLV – or HLV as it is being classed) in addition to several alternatives – (with an article on the latest documented notes due to be published later this week) – sources note Ares I is in real danger of failing to become the crew transport booster in NASA’s future.

With no decision made, four options were presented to the White House around a week ago, pre-empting a mid-December announcement. Sources note all four options had commercial crew for LEO access. Ares I was not included in any scenario.

One date was also mentioned by sources, speaking of a Crew Space Transportation Development (CCDev) program winner announcement by the White House/OSTP on December 15. This announcement – should it remain on schedule – may prove to be one of the opening indicators into the fate of Ares I.

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.

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