Space Tech of the Week: Ares I

What is it?: "Ares I is the crew launch vehicle being developed by NASA as a component of Project Constellation. NASA plans to use Ares I to launch Orion, the spacecraft being designed for NASA human spaceflight missions after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010."

The Constellation program, which Ares I is a part of, was begun as an answer to President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration which challenged the agency to return people to the Moon and on to Mars. The official goal of the program is "gaining significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, developing technologies needed for opening the space frontier and conducting fundamental science."

During the Apollo program one launch vehicle (Saturn V) was used to send both the crew and cargo to the moon, instead the Constellation program will use two vehicles to accomplish the same task (Ares I and Ares V). Ares I will carry the crew in the Orion spacecraft which will later dock in space with the Altair lunar lander (launched onboard an Ares V rocket) and then proceed to the moon.

Ares I will also launch the Orion spacecraft in order to send astronauts to the International Space Station after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010.

Ares I was designed to use previously proven NASA technologies and so as a result it uses technology from both the Space Shuttle program and the Saturn rocket program.

The first stage of the vehicle is a solid fuel rocket that is derived from the current Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB). "Compared with the current SRB, which has four segments, the most notable difference is the addition of a fifth segment. This fifth segment will enable the Ares I to produce more thrust and burn longer." The first stage for Ares I will be reusable and after flight it will crash down into the Atlantic ocean (by parachute), be retrieved, briefly serviced at Kennedy Space Center,Fl, then sent to Utah for it to be fully refurbished, and then finally it will then be sent back to Kennedy Space Center for integration into a new Ares I.

The upper stage of the vehicle will be propelled by one J-2X liquid fueled rocket engine. This engine is derived from the J-2 engine used in the Saturn program in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike the first stage, the upper stage will not be reusable. New upper stages will need to be built for every mission. This manufacturing will be done at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. It will then be transported on a barge across the Gulf of Mexico to be integrated with the rest of the vehicle at Kennedy Space Center.

"Multiple delays in the Ares I development schedule due to budgetary pressures and unforeseen engineering and technical difficulties continue to increase the gap between the end of the Space Shuttle program and the first operational flight of Ares I. As of late 2007, the first operational Ares I flight is scheduled for late 2015, a full five years after the last Shuttle flight"

A test flight vehicle (named Ares I-X) which will be similar in shape, weight, and size to Ares I will be launched from Kennedy Space Center in Summer 2009.

NASA Ares I Page
NASA Ares I-X Page
Tall George's Visual History of Project Constellation (GREAT!)

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