Today NASA was supposed to conduct the first full-scale test of the motor for the first stage of its future space rocket, Ares I. The test, at NASA partner Alliant Techsystems, was in Utah at 3:00 P.M. EST and was intended to last two minutes. The goal was to obtain data on thrust, roll control, acoustics, and vibrations to aid engineers in designing Ares I. But the test was scrubbed 20 seconds before ignition of the 154-foot motor, which was anchored to the ground horizontally. The problem: failure of a power unit that drives hydraulic tilt controls for the rocket’s nozzle, according to a local report. The static firing test of the motor has not yet been rescheduled.
While nothing appears to be wrong with the rocket itself, the failure is a setback. The Ares rocket is part of NASA’s Constellation Program–a plan for new manned flights to the moon and possibly to Mars and beyond, the first of which is scheduled to launch in 2015. A test flight rocket, Ares I-X, will take place later this year.
The failure also comes at a crucial time for NASA. The independent panel charged with reviewing the future of U.S. human spaceflight is preparing to present its recommendations to the Obama administration in less than a week. One option is to simply abandon the program, which has been over budget and behind schedule.
The new motor is a 12-foot-wide solid rocket booster. Its design is derived from the space shuttle, which uses two four-segment solid rocket boosters, and it will burn the same specially formulated propellant. The added fifth segment will allow Ares I to lift more weight and reach a higher altitude.