Thursday, October 29, 2009

NASA completed the first successful space flight of the new Ares I-X rocket yesterday. After delaying the launch 24 hours because of poor weather, Ares lifted off at 11:30 (EDT) in the morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The 327-foot tall Ares I-X test vehicle produced 2.6 million pounds of thrust to accelerate the rocket to nearly 3 g’s and Mach 4.76 — just shy of hypersonic speed. It capped its easterly flight at a sub-orbital altitude of 150,000 feet after the separation of its first stage, a four-segment solid rocket booster. After reaching an altitude of about 40 km, the first stage separates from the launch vehicle. The second stage was very brief, reaching around 46,000 metres, before an uncontrolled descent. The Orion capsule model should splash down approximately 230 nautical miles from the launch site. The first stage booster from the test descended for recovery using a parachute braking system.

“This is a huge step forward for NASA’s exploration goals. Ares I-X provides NASA with an enormous amount of data that will be used to improve the design and safety of the next generation of American spaceflight vehicles — vehicles that could again take humans beyond low Earth orbit,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C..

The Ares I is a new rocket developed under the Constellation program, part of the Vision for Space Exploration announced in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush. Derived from a booster used on the current United States Space Shuttle, it should help to lift the Orion spacecraft carrying people and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket with Orion is also planned to lift the crew to Altair lunar landing module, which will be lifted into orbit using the Ares V heavy-lift rocket.