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Ares I rocket clears first hurdle to set record

WASHINGTON, DC (BNS): NASA successfully completed the Ares I rocket launch vehicle preliminary design, thus moving ahead in the launch of the rocket in 2015. On Wednesday, NASA undertook a design review of the nation's next generation launch vehicle.

Beginning 2015, the Ares I rocket will launch four to six astronauts aboard Orion crew exploration vehicle, along with small cargo payloads to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has said that the rocket will also be used for missions to moon and beyond in the coming years.

For the first time in 35 years, the preliminary design review of the rocket that would carry astronauts into space was conducted at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alaska. The review panel examined the current design for the Ares I launch vehicle and assessed whether it met all technicalities needed for the fully integrated vehicle.

Talking about the review meeting, Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, said that this was a critical step for development of the Ares I rocket. “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,” Gilbrech said.

Nearly 1,100 scientists from seven NASA field centers and industry partners reviewed the preliminary design. NASA said that 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 last couple of months.

NASA said that the preliminary design review is one among a series of reviews that occurs before actual flight hardware can be built. More detailed parts of the vehicle design are assessed to ensure the overall system can meet all NASA requirements for safe and reliable flight during future review processes. This way all technical and management flaws can be addressed to cut down risks in future.

Stating that the assessment of risk was an important part of the process, Steve Cook, manager of the Ares I rocket at Marshall said, “It allows us to identify issues that might impact the Ares I rocket.”

Explaining the review design process, Cook said, that they 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,” he said.

Now that the review is complete, it will be a round of detailed design phase of Ares I rocket. The J-2X engine will be the first Ares I element to start the critical design review process, which will power the Ares I upper stage to orbit after separation from the first stage.

Cook said that they were excited about getting into full system engine tests with the new J-2X engine. “This will be one of the safest, most affordable and highest performing rocket engines ever built, and testing is critical as we begin preparation for future flights,” Cook added.

Marshall manages the Ares projects and is responsible for design and development of the Ares I rocket and Ares V heavy cargo launch vehicle. NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Constellation Programme, which includes the Ares I rocket, the Ares V vehicle, the Orion crew capsule and the Altair lunar Lander. NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for ground and launch operations. The programme also includes multiple project element teams at NASA centers and contract organisations around the US.

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