NASA Receives First Stage Rocket Hardware for Ares I-X Test Flight

NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida welcomed the arrival Nov. 10 of important hardware for the Ares I-X rocket's upcoming test flight.

Called the forward skirt, the component is part of the rocket's first stage. The Ares I-X launch will be the first test flight for NASA's next crew launch vehicle. The launch is targeted for July 2009 from Kennedy and will provide an early opportunity to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I rocket.

The forward skirt began its trip Nov. 7 from Major Tool & Machine Inc. of Indiana, a subcontractor to Alliant Techsystems Inc., or ATK, of Utah. ATK is the prime contractor for the first stage of the Ares I rocket.

The rocket's first stage provides the primary propulsion -- 2.6 million pounds of thrust -- for the vehicle from liftoff to stage separation, which occurs 120 seconds into the flight. Part of the first stage, the nearly 14,000-pound forward skirt is constructed entirely of armored steel and stands seven feet tall and 12 1/4 feet wide. The main deceleration parachutes that slow the return of the rocket's boosters to Earth after launch are attached to this hardware. The forward skirt was designed as an empty, buoyant space to be used as ballast, keeping the first stage afloat for recovery.

"We could not be more pleased that the vehicle first stage hardware is beginning to arrive," said Pepper Phillips, director of the Constellation Project Office at Kennedy. "This is one of many major milestones and is a testament to the tremendous NASA and contractor team working together to ensure a successful test flight for the new program."

The upper stage simulator was the first major piece of the Ares I-X rocket to arrive at Kennedy on Nov. 4. During the next few months, all of the additional hardware needed to complete the test vehicle will be delivered to Kennedy, beginning with a piece that simulates a fifth segment for the four-segment solid rocket booster and concluding with delivery of the complete motor set in January 2009.

United Space Alliance of Florida, under a subcontract to ATK, will complete the integration and assembly of the forward skirt in Kennedy's Assembly and Refurbishment Facility. The hardware then will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building for stacking operations in high bay 3 during the spring of 2009.

"The forward skirt has 12 parachute brackets, with each bracket restraining two parachute spools," said Bob Herman, ATK's Florida site director. "For the Ares I-X launch, six of these spools will be used to measure parachute loads passed on to the forward skirt. ATK is proud to play a critical role in helping NASA achieve its vision to return to the moon."

The rocket's deceleration subsystem includes the pilot, drogue and main parachutes. The pilot parachute is deployed at an altitude of 16,210 feet and pulls out the drogue parachute. When the drogue parachute opens, it slows the vehicle and orients it to descend tail first. The main parachutes are deployed as the forward skirt extension separates from the forward skirt. They are used to slow the final decent of the first stage to 48 mph, allowing a safe impact with the water.

The Ares I-X rocket is a combination of existing and simulator hardware that will resemble the Ares I crew launch vehicle in size, shape and weight. It will provide valuable data to guide the final design of the Ares I, which will launch astronauts in the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The test flight also will bring NASA one step closer to its exploration goals of returning humans to the moon for sustained exploration of the lunar surface and missions to destinations beyond.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the first stage for the Ares I-X project, which is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Video b-roll of the arrival will be available on NASA Television's Video File feed. For NASA TV streaming video, schedules, and downlink information, visit:

For more information about the Ares I-X test flight and NASA's next-generation spacecraft, visit:

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