Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ares X-1 Assembly

This simple test rocket, in a way the biggest hobby launch ever, will be an early test of a man-rated rocket. Why is this a great rocket in my mind? Because it uses an inexpensive and fairly reliable solid rocket motor in the first stage, then more energetic liquid motors in upper stages. This is, across the board, the recipe for success in large rockets. Even the Saturn V chose a dense but low energy fuel for the first stage. This doesn't strike me as a terribly important test (more important than the recent LES test, less important that actual all up testing of the real rockets to be done in the future); but it will be very very cool. And this minor step shows that some progress is being made in what strikes me as a very good move back towards mostly expendable rockets, one with a heavy lift capacity (10 meter space telescope anyone? Or Mars mission...), and the other being a smaller cheaper rocket to carry men to space. No longer will crews and payload be mixed together. No longer will we have people flying below falling ice and foam, nor will we carry a giant glider up and back, turning one of the largest rockets ever into something that can hardly carry a school bus to orbit. In other words, the end of the Shuttle era is approaching nicely.


DTH Rocket said...

I heartily agree, the shuttle program did not save as much money as it was intended to. In fact, it was probably a bigger cost than previous rockets because of its complexity.

Part of me (a small part of me) will miss the shuttle, because it was "cool," but it's just not worth it.

~DTH Rocket

R2K said...

I certainly agree that the shuttle was cool. But I do not understand why it was never used to recover things from space. Nearly every flight it returns empty, and we could be taking spacecraft back from orbit to reuse them or at least keep things cleaner.

If funding was better, I would support many projects. But since we have to pick and chose and work on a tight budget, we need to stick to some cheaper rockets.

Anonymous said...

I hope that this isn't too much a thread-jack. IF so, feel free to delete the question.

Seeing these pictures reminded me of the report that the escape system would be unable to save the crew in event of a low level abort. (The burning pieces of solid propellant and their radiant heat would melt the parachute.)
What would happen if in an abort, instead of blowing up the whole SRB derived launcher, they just blew off the nozzle and top cap? This would stop the generation of thrust. Mind you the body would still fall wherever but as long as the trajectory was over sea, who'd care?


DTH Rocket said...

"Nearly every flight it returns empty, and we could be taking spacecraft back from orbit to reuse them or at least keep things cleaner."

I thought that it came back empty because it couldn't land with the added weight of returning payloads. Even some aircraft have to do a fuel dump if they need to land early in flight.

~DTH Rocket

R2K said...

Anon - the problem of burning AP on a parachute is a real concern, but the reports in question was really overblown. The LES is designed to carry the crew for a great distance up and away from the rocket, even in the event of a pad abort. The odds of a burning problem are much lower, but never zero. Also the entire process, like an ejection seat, is going to be violent and dangerous. It is never a great thing to do, but in the face of automatic death, a .9 percent chance of survival, and a .2 percent chance of never flying again due to injury on ejection, are probably worth it.

DTH - The shuttle appears able to land with a full payload. Firstly, there is no way that it can eject the payload during an abort, so all abort modes must allow for landing with the payload in the bay. Yes these landings may be more risky than normal, so that alone doesnt prove my point. But the other matter is that sometimes the shuttle flies with that little space lab thing often, and returns with it.

You know how Uhaul has one way rentals where you move then drive to a new city and leave the van or trailer there? Then a person in that city rents it and drives it to a new city... If each trip cost you $150 million or more, you really should be carrying something each and every time you make the trip. IMHO. Just one of the many reasons why the shuttle started out as a great idea, and was hopelessly crippled by the government and administrators who went for half of a good thing, and got none.

Do I sound bitter?! :) I am convinced that we would have landed men on Mars by now if the shuttle and space station were not in the way.

R2K said...

Sorry above I mean a .9 probability of survival and .2 chance of a serious injury, or 90% and 20%...