Monday, October 19, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #8

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, October 20, shortly after midnight, an event will occur that has not happened in almost 30 years. A new launch vehicle will leave the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center and make its way to Launch Complex 39B. Atop the Ares I-X booster is our Spacecraft of the Week. The 'Crew Module Simulator' is a boilerplate of an Orion Spacecraft. Mounted on a simulated service module and topped with a Launch Abort System Simulator, the CMS is heavily instrumented to provide feedback of the forces experienced in the launch.

The Ares I-X has been the center of some controversy. Built as a test for the more powerful Ares I, this uprated Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) was never intended to launch alone. Paired up along side an external fuel tank , SRBs have helped launch Space Shuttles since 1981. With modifications and an extra segment of rocket fuel, the Ares I was intended to launch astronauts to orbit and the International Space Station. Critics fear that undampened vibrations of the burning solid fuel would prove fatal for astronauts aboard. The same fears arose after the Saturn V's first flight. Engineering provided an answer and the Saturn V became one of the most successful boosters in history. The Ares I-X will provide similar data and provide engineers with a benchmark for final development of the Ares I.

But first, the CMS and the Ares I-X need to get to the pad. Tomorrow will be an exciting day for space hardware enthusiasts, and sitting atop the object of their attention will be our Spacecraft of the Week, the Crew Module Simulator.

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