It was a busy week at the Kennedy Space Center as technicians and engineers made milestones in preparing for this summer's test launch of the new ARES rocket.
Scheduled for its test launch from complex 39-B in late-July 2009, the ARES 1-X will test ground support systems, such as fueling and launch pad support. ARES will be the main mode of space travel by astronauts throughout the 2010's & 2020's as Americans prepare for a return stay on the Moon.
The above NASA/KSC digital images were taken on December 4th inside high bay 4 of the vehicle assembly building at KSC. Great pictures show what most have not seen, the coming together of the upper stage segment pieces for ARES 1-X.
The late-July ARES launch is based on a May launch of shuttle Atlantis on the delayed Hubble Space Telescope servicing flight. Due to new flight rules, since Atlantis is not flying to the space station on Mission STS-125, a back up shuttle needs to be on the adjacent pad in support of a possible rescue mission. This is based on post-Columbia rules to support a damaged shuttle on orbit.
Measuring 18 feet wide, the segments are pretty much a modified solid rocket booster.
ARES is step one under NASA's new Constellation program which reflects trips to the space station, the Moon and Mars. ARES 1 will be for crew transport, while ARES 5 will support station and Lunar cargo flights only. Orion will be the name of the crew vehicle which will dock to the station, or carry a crew of four and a lunar lander to the Moon's orbit beginning around 2020.
The first human flight aboard the ARES-Orion vehicle is slated for about 2014. The image above shows Orion enroute to the space station, with it's high gain antenna deployed and disk solar arrays on either side.