September 11, 2008

NASA’s New Moon Rocket Passes First Test

Following a preliminary design review late Wednesday, NASA officials unanimously approved the launch system being designed to replace the space shuttle.

These reviews are to make sure that the broad design, plans and software mesh properly and pass early safety questions. A more detailed test - a critical design review - is scheduled for March 2011.

NASA intends to spend $3 billion a year in 2009 and 2010 in order to meet its projected debut launch in 2015.

"This is a critical step for development of the Ares I rocket," said Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Completing the preliminary design review of the integrated vehicle demonstrates our engineering design and development are on sound footing, and the Ares I design work is taking us another step closer to building America's next mode of space transportation."

More than 1,100 reviewers from seven NASA field centers and industry partners took part in studying the rocket. Teams representing each major part of the Ares I rocket -- the upper stage engine, first stage and upper stage -- all have conducted similar reviews during the past year, NASA said.

"Risk assessment is a very important part of the process," said Steve Cook, manager of the Ares I rocket at Marshall. "It allows us to identify issues that might impact the Ares I rocket. For example, we identified thrust oscillation - vibration in the first stage - as a risk. In response to this issue, we formed an engineering team. The team conducted detailed analyses and reviewed previous test data, and then recommended options to correct the problem."

About 10 percent of the problems that engineers brought up are still to be resolved but do not require a separate review, including noise problems and questions if the rocket could fly through rough weather, especially lightning, Cook said.

Contractors involved in designing the Ares launcher are Boeing Co's ATK Launch Systems and Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne.

The new rockets are being designed to carry a capsule-style spacecraft called Orion. The Orion crew capsule will have its preliminary design review in late 2009.


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