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NASA prepares Ares I-X rocket launch; key to human spaceflight

NASA prepares Ares I-X rocket launch; key to human spaceflight

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For the first time in 25 years, a new vehicle has left NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, and its payload -- the Arex I-X rocket -- promises to return humans to space.

For the first time in 25 years, a new vehicle has left NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, and its cargo -- the Arex I-X rocket -- promises to return humans to space.

The assembled Ares I-X was mounted aboard NASA's Crawler-Transporter and arrived at Launch Pad 39B.

The rocket's launch will test the viability of the 100-meter high Ares I, the agency's largest and most powerful rocket since the Saturn V. That rocket, which powered Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was 10 meters taller than Ares.

The Ares I-X imitates the characteristics of the Ares I. It's comprised of a four-segment solid rocket motor, simulated fifth segment, newly designed forward assembly and a simulated upper stage, crew module and launch abort system.

NASA and Alliant Techsystems have spent the last three years collaborating on hardware and software design, integration, testing, ground processing and launch operations.

ATK explains the similarities:

The recovery system that will be used for the Ares I-X first stage is the newly developed Ares I parachute system. The guidance and navigation algorithms are the same as those that will be used for Ares I, and the forward assembly that attaches the first stage to the upper stage is prototype hardware developed for Ares I. The solid rocket motor cases used for Ares I-X have collectively flown on 30 previous shuttle missions and will continue to be reused for the Ares program.

ATK says the rocket is equipped with more than 700 sensors that will be used to collect data on loads, environments, roll characteristics, vehicle guidance, navigation and control, first stage separation and first stage re-entry in realistic flight environments.

If proven successful, the rocket has the capability of carrying a space shuttle or other manned spacecraft into outer space. But NASA itself must make its case to the current U.S. administration.

The Ares I-X rocket is expected to launch on Oct. 27 (8 a.m. to 12 p.m. EDT).

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure