Ares l-X Moves "Forward"
Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana

Image above: Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees about the significance of moving the Ares I-X aft skirt to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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Ares hardware is moved to the VAB

Image above: The Ares I-X forward assembly heads for Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building. In the VAB's High Bay 4, the forward assembly will be processed and stacked with the upper stage. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller
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Ares l-X hardware in the VAB

Image above: In the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 4, the Ares I-X forward assembly joins other segments on the floor. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller
› High-res Image

It was an exhilarating time at Kennedy Space Center and throughout NASA as a procession of Ares I-X launch vehicle hardware rolled into the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, on June 11.

Members of the media, program managers and more than 300 Kennedy employees gathered to watch as new sections of the Constellation Program's Ares I-X traveled from the center's Assembly and Refurbishment Facility to the VAB for processing and assembly.

"We are going to build this rocket, we're going to fly it this year and people are going to see that we at Kennedy Space Center can pull things together and get the job done," Center Director Bob Cabana said. "Thanks to all of you for your hard work and dedication."

The Ares I-X rocket will combine existing and simulated hardware to resemble the Ares I crew launch vehicle in size, shape and weight. With this combination, engineers expect to generate valuable flight data to determine the final design of Ares I -- the vehicle that will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle.

The forward assembly, which consists of the forward skirt, forward skirt extension and the frustum, connects the 12-foot diameter first-stage motor to the 18-foot diameter upper-stage simulator.

Weighing more than 40,000 pounds, the assembly also houses three newly designed descent parachutes for first-stage recovery.

Interestingly, several parts of the new Ares launch vehicle have their origins in the Space Shuttle Program. The aft skirt, which is still used at the bottom of shuttle's solid rocket boosters, went through a modification process for Ares I-X. Technicians soon will begin stacking the hardware sections to prepare for the first Ares flight test scheduled for late summer right here at Kennedy.

"The commitment, dedication of everybody here -- I'm proud to be a part of this team and now we can start putting our rocket together," said NASA Ares I-X Mission Manager Bob Ess. "We've been looking forward to this day for two years now and the fact that we finally got to this milestone is a testament to you all working so hard."

Once stacking operations begin, it will be the first time a new vehicle has been stacked on NASA's Mobile Launcher Platform-1 in more than 25 years.

The launcher was turned over from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program in March, and holds a rich history from both shuttle and Apollo launches.

"Ares I-X is a key part of the Ares program," said Joe Oliva, first stage program manager for the Ares I-X at ATK Space Systems in Salt Lake City. "This test flight will be a key proof of concept that allows us to have lots of confidence that this vehicle will work as designed."

The flight test of Ares I-X will bring NASA one step closer to its exploration goals of returning humans to the moon for long-duration exploration of the lunar surface and beyond.

Elaine M. Marconi
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center