Ares I-X 2009 Test Flight Progress: Pyrotechnic Stage Separation


The successful test of NASA’s Ares I-X Forward Skirt Extension on Thursday represents a “major milestone” in the development of the launch system, according to Alliant Techsystems (ATK). The “skirt extension” in question is a solid ring of aluminium (or aluminum) connecting the first stage with the upper stages of the rocket.

This summer, the first flight of the Constellation Program is scheduled to blast off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad. The ATK pyrotechnics deep in the Utah Desert has proven to NASA that a key portion of this test flight will go as planned, allowing the reusable portion of the Ares I to return to Earth for recovery…

To say 2008 was a turbulent year for the Constellation program is an understatement. Although there have been a number of successful tests (including the test firing of the jettison motor, launch abort system and an old Shuttle engine; plus parachute tests), political tensions, criticism of the technology and budget uncertainty have all taken their toll. The future of the Constellation Program is in doubt (or shaky at best) and there’s not many media headlines with anything positive to say. So, when there is a successful test of any Ares component, it is certainly worth reporting, in an attempt to redress the good-news/bad-news balance and give credit where credit is due.

Artist impression of the Ares I-X at the launchpad, plus labelled sections of the rocket (NASA)
Artist impression of the Ares I-X at the launchpad, plus labelled sections of the rocket (NASA)
So, last week, ATK successfully tested the explosive charges that will perform the most important task of the test launch of the Ares I-X. The Forward Skirt Extension is located between the first and second stages of the rocket (pictured left). This 1.8 metre (6 ft) long by 3.7 metre (12 ft) diameter aluminium cylinder will allow the first stage booster to separate at the frustum (a cone-shaped connector that attaches the first stage to the larger diameter upper stage). During the launch, separation will occur at an altitude of around 40 km (130,000 ft).

This section will also be important as it will need to store the recovery parachutes for the first stage and it will need to support the mass of the upper stages (plus payload) during launch. It is for this reason that the skirt is forged from one solid lump of aluminium and reinforced with a unique internal support structure, housing three main parachutes.

Data from the charge detonation will be used to measure the shock generated, understanding how this might affect the Ares I-X mission and future Ares I launches. Thursday’s test appears to have achieved this as well as severing the forward skirt extension.

Roll on summer, I’m looking forward to seeing the Ares X-I first stage parachute to Earth

Source: NASA

21 Replies to “Ares I-X 2009 Test Flight Progress: Pyrotechnic Stage Separation”

  1. Lol, I’m bi-lingual, so I thought I’d cater for my readers in the Commonwealth (if only) and my readers in my adopted country 😉

    Funny, I wrote “neighbourhood” in a note to my wife the other day. For some reason she couldn’t stop laughing. I’m keeping that spelling from now on. This is me making a stand for UK English.

    Isn’t Uranus spelled “Uranius”? I think it gets rid of any awkward school yard moments… Can we lobby the IAU about this? They seem to be fairly open to reclassification and renaming these days 😉

    Cheers! Ian

    PS. Good news about the constellation progress though 😉

  2. Good to see the Constellation Programme continue to move on, and I agree with finally hearing a good story about it
    (… but is it program or programme?)

    As for, “…a solid ring of aluminium (or aluminum)”

    Oh Ian, you just crack me up!

    I just love the current wikipedia entry for this element;

    “In the UK and most other countries using British spelling, only aluminium (with an i before -um) is used. In the United States, the spelling aluminium is largely unknown, and the spelling aluminum predominates.”

    If most other countries spell it aluminium, then how does spelling aluminum predominate? Silly.

    Also what really cracks me up is that;
    – Americium (Element 95) is spelt with an ‘i’
    – Californium, which has an ‘n’ before the -ium (like aluminium) is spelt with the ‘i’
    – Titanium and Uranium also has an ‘n’ before the -ium but is also spellet with an ‘i’
    – There 81 of the 118 element end with -ium

    Ah Americans and random non-conformity, you go to love that.


  3. Predominates in the US, obviously. There’s no way to misinterpret the scope of that sentence.

    And as you can see from that article, aluminum came first, since the mineral is known as alumina not aluminia. Unlike, say, zirconia.

  4. ……Ah Americans and random non-conformity, you go to love that.

    yeah like metric nad imperial units. 🙂

  5. Sili
    Your assumption is saying “aluminum came first” – and so therein lies the actual problem – it’s about being first and not being factually correct.
    The metal Aluminium was first produce on 23rd February 1886 by Charles M. Hall. alumina is a by-product of bauxite, chemically Aluminium Oxide (di-Aluminium tri-oxide), and this alum salt was known even in ancient times.
    In fact;, quoted in several sources, including wikipedia;
    “Hall is considered the originator of the American spelling of aluminum. According to Oberlin College, he misspelled it on a handbill publicising his aluminum refinement process.”
    You just assume that Americans have always spelt it that way. You are wrong. Knowledge of aluminium is certainly earlier than this, but perhaps these points are more relevant;
    – Your alleged mineral alumina was actually named from the metal expected to be extracted, which Englishman Humphrey Davy in 1808 named alumium.
    – In the American Webster’s dictionary of 1828 to 1913 it is spelt aluminium – thus conforming with the rest of the world.
    – It was the American Chemical Society in 1928 was official adopted as the American English spelling.
    In the end, I reckon that the next element in homage to American bungling should be called “Stupidum” instead of the expected “Stupidium” – just so we know…
    So, if all this is true, all it proves is that American have just perpetrated a simple an avoidable mistake. But best of all in this entire silly escapade, you guys will I suppose just have to live with it!
    Still LMAO.

  6. RetardedFishFrog says

    “Jeez Louise! Who cares?
    Uranus has a “U” and an “R” ”

    Yeah. But irony still is spelt with an ‘i’….

  7. “This summer, the first flight of the Constellation Program is scheduled to blast off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad.”

    Agreed. I’m impressed with the progress. I had no idea they were going to launch something this summer. Are they launching the Ares I?

  8. Its a flight test of the Ares I booster system. Upper stage is a boiler plate to be dumped downrange if all goes successful.

    The Orion is, like its Apollo predecessor, a functional craft with all the right numbers for spaceflight.
    Unfortunately I get the feeling our media overlords dislike the project because of its current lack in glamor and homely appearance. Since its not the USS enterprise it simply does not suit them, and they look for any failure to start dumping on the project.

    I fear there wont be any good news from that lot until the whole thing starts delivering people to the moon… and even then some idiots going to start ranting about how science is a waste of money.

  9. Ian wrote
    “Lol, I’m bi-lingual, so I thought I’d cater for my readers in the Commonwealth (if only) and my readers in my adopted country ”

    Thanks. On a more serious note I, and probably quite a few others, appreciate the consideration by some of the authors here – especially regarding the combinations sometimes of American English and so-called British English and SI Units, metric and imperial ones.. While it may absolutely infuriate some, at least it makes Universe Today at least a bit more reflective of the global community.

    As for; “Funny, I wrote “neighbourhood” in a note to my wife the other day. For some reason she couldn’t stop laughing. I’m keeping that spelling from now on. This is me making a stand for UK English.”

    Oh dear. Sounds like your starting to really move to the dark side. Some advice though… whatever you do, don’t start calling your “cell phone”, because outside the US, most of us use a “mobile phone.” Worst thing is that Americans immigrants on learning this then call the device instead a Moble phone, as in “nobel” instead of Mobile phone, which rhymes with “file.” When lecturing to groups of people, you can always quickly find the numbers of Americans in the audience, by just asking then o switch off their mobile phones- and look for the perplexed faces. Works an absolute treat..

    Perhaps it IS as the old joke says… “I don’t care what you call me as long as it’s not late for dinner!”

  10. The reason most reporters will not get the Constellation subject right is because reporters fall into three categories. One is those who are dumb as stumps. The second is those who are intelligent but ignorant of most technical matters. The final category is those who get it. My experience with them, and I have a lot of first hand experience, is that the first category predominates, the second category is very common, and the third category is vanishingly small. Very few reporters have a clue as to how difficult space travel is, not to mention the challenges of developing a new launch system. They also have no understanding that some of the rockets are going to fail in the test phases. That is why they are tested. Plus, the engineers learn a lot from a failure that goes into a successful operational model. All they see are the pretty flames coming out of the back, the rocket doesn’t look like Star Trek or Star Wars, and it blew up so it must be gross incompetence on everyone’s part. I have quit trying to talk to them in anything other than baby talk (I apologize if that sounds unduly harsh…to babies).

  11. I find the comments as interesting as the article itself. Someone (Churchill?) said, I believe, that the Americans and the English are two people separated by the same language. Obviously, there is some truth to this. The same problem exists for French. For instance, a cell/mobile phone is called “un GSM” in Belgium but “un telephone portable” or simply “un portable” in France, which is confusing because the word “portable” is also used to designate a laptop computer. In any case good luck for Ares whether its ring is made of aluminum or aluminium, who cares as long as it works!

  12. OH! Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? This verbal class distinction, by now should be antique.

    If you sir, spoke as she does, instead of the way you do. Then you might be selling flowers to.

    The Americans haven’t spoken English for years.

  13. Tony Trenton says;
    “This verbal class distinction, by now should be antique.”

    Actually, this undeclared war goes on because it only reinforces difference and the American’s desire to keep their standing in the world. You know this as we still often we see the rampant hostility and belligerence that somehow Americans are superior and expect others just to bow down and comply to their wishes.*
    Americans also really don’t want to change because they see this as some kind inherent weakness – and hurting their rather peculiar insecurities. Worst is that these changes cannot be a system of compromises. This is especially true when it comes the language of science and engineering – which is important that things are done on the “same page” so to speak.
    The pinnacle of this whole particular debate is (with the word aluminium against aluminum) was that it was made as an honest mistake. IMO It says more about the psychology of people who are not prepared to change, who digs their heels in and just won’t budge – all for the sake of nothing more than vanity.
    So when does righting wrongs become less important that the frailty of pride and vanity?
    Perhaps America just needs to “bite the bullet” once in a while and join the diversity that some of the other countries of the world enjoy,
    Note: I oddly also believe sometimes, contrary to this opinion, that “differences make us stronger”

    *All you have to do is look at the merge visit count on the bottom of the page to gauge how they feel. This count on a story on the American space programme is 816m, while the 500-metre Chinese article is 2.334. Either American readers are just more interested in radio astronomy than I thought, or they are uncomfortable with the nature of the discussion. I.e. If we just ignore it they’ll just go away.

  14. Perhaps America just needs to “bite the bullet” once in a while and join the diversity that some of the other countries of the world enjoy,

    Whoa, I don’t think this knucklehead has a clue.

  15. I have a good deal of respect for ATK, but I am skeptical of this scheme to cut a cylindrical section of aluminum with explosives to accomplish stage separation on a man-rated vehicle. I wonder how they’ll calculate the failure rate?

  16. Gaussling
    Good point. Also why also use aluminium. Surely something like 6061-T6 aluminium alloy would be a better choice and it is equally light and much stronger.
    Also, I believe the Washington Monument has embedded in it an solid aluminium brick, which was laid when the monument needle was made. Is it still there????

  17. I find this whole debate about language a bit silly. Language is not cast in stone it is a living organism that evolve through time and space and adapt to local culture. Diversity is what makes life interesting. This applies to bio as well as to humans. This site is US-based, so it is quite legitimate that the language used be American English. I do not see that as arrogant but entirely natural.

  18. Michel said; “This site is US-based, so it is quite legitimate that the language used be American English.” followed by;
    “I do not see that as arrogant but entirely natural.”
    This is the usual last line of defence when things don’t auger for some argument – a similar means employed by several others here.
    However the real flaw is that the assumption is that the material is written solely for a US-market. Whilst it might be true that perhaps 50% may live in the US, does not mean that there is legitimacy of absolutely one way or the other. The point is balance – appealing to everyone.
    It is also funny that language necessarily has to be English, and not so Spanish or Portuguese, French or Chinese. So much for the universal appeal of astronomy – and more so in 2009 IYA!
    So just as long as it is is some predefined language that no everyone quite understands or communicate their own contributing ideas and thoughts.
    As I’ve said previously, that in the end, the delusion with wearing rose coloured glasses all the time, is that after a while you know what your seeing is actually real or not.
    as an end note. I have brought this same topic across multiple threads in Universe Today, and of course, you can accuse me of “arrogance” as well for assuming the same approach. Yet I, and probably many non-US readers here, do really appreciated the efforts of those presenting the diverse stories and news items appearing in the site. Moreover, some of the “accommodations” have been well noted and seen, and just based on that, us foreigners can feel part of a community interested in astronomy and space science.
    Michel, I disagree with you on a few points, but I do see your point of view.

  19. Who cares the article was about the Forward Skirt Extension not language. It doesn’t matter which way it is spelled (not spelt) people in general all know what metal the article is talking about.

Comments are closed.