It looks like NASA’s new Ares 1-X rocket is ready for testing.  It will likely be a while until the rocket is production ready, estimated launch at around 2016, giving SpaceX and Orbital Sciences plenty of time to prove their worth.  However, this new rocket is slimmer and more powerful than the previous monsters NASA used for space exploration, specifically Saturn 5 and Ares V.

Lets hope that this new generation craft will be safer, too.  The recent accidents with NASA’s space shuttle fleet has left a bad taste in the mouth of most American’s, leading some to demand NASA’s dismantling. 

Regardless, this new rocket will greatly decrease the cost of manned space flights.  The BBC has a great piece on the new Ares 1-X rocket, copied in full below:

The US space agency, Nasa, is rolling out its Ares 1-X test rocket.

The super-slim, 100m-tall launcher is a demonstrator for the vehicle Nasa plans to use in the next decade to take its new astronaut crewship into orbit.

The Ares I-X is expected to make an unmanned, two-minute flight at the end of the month to check out basic design concepts and gather engineering data.

However, the project’s long-term future is uncertain and could conceivably be cancelled in the coming months.

US President Barack Obama convened an expert panel back in May to review American human spaceflight plans and priorities.

Led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, the advisory group has suggested a range of options for getting astronauts into space – most of which do not require the new stick-like Ares launcher.

The committee is expected to deliver its final report to the White House this week.

The 1-X is being moved out of the giant Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Its 6.7km (4.2 miles) journey to the launch pad is expected to last about seven hours.

The $350m (£213m; 234m euro) test launch is scheduled to take place from the Florida spaceport no earlier than the 27th of the month.

The 1-X will climb about 40km (25 miles) into the sky during the powered phase of its flight, continuously measuring vehicle aerodynamics, controls and performance of the rocket’s first stage.

The demonstrator will help verify design assumptions so that when the Ares 1 proper is built, the engineers can be confident it will fly as expected.

“It’s a tall rocket; it’s been over three decades since anyone has built a rocket this tall. That was the Saturn V,” explained Trent Smith, the vehicle processing engineer for the Ares 1-X.

“We have over 700 sensors on this rocket; and the whole point of Ares 1-X is to understand how does a rocket this shape, this weight, this tall actually fly,” he told BBC News.

The top half of the 1-X is a dummy. What would be an upper-stage, with a crew capsule and its emergency escape mechanism are simulators made to the correct shape and weight.

Once the first stage has been extinguished and has separated from the top of the 1-X, all the elements will come back to Earth.

The first-stage booster will parachute into the Atlantic Ocean where it will be recovered for inspection by engineers. The simulation elements of the vehicle will be destroyed on impact with the water.

The US space agency is scheduled to retire its space shuttles next year, and has begun the development of a new human space launch “architecture” called Constellation.

The architecture calls for two new rockets: the Ares 1 to launch crew, and a new heavy-lift rocket known as Ares 5 that could put into orbit the equipment needed by a manned capsule to travel to the Moon and beyond.

However, all the systems are under review, and many commentators expect the Ares development plans to be heavily modified or even cancelled.

If it is allowed to proceed, a manned Ares 1 is not expected to fly before 2016.


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