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NASA declares Ares I-X test a success

Still not sure about booster 'chute failure

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NASA chiefs in charge of the agency's next-generation rocket program said on Thursday that their $445 million Ares I-X test flight was a success in proving the launch vehicle's design.

After poring over preliminary data, project manager of Ares I-X test flight Bob Ess said during a conference call with reporters that the rocket's six-minute voyage October 28 demonstrated the viability of its guidance, control, and navigation systems.

Ess also said potentially damaging vibrations on liftoff that were thought to be a major concern were well below expected levels.

There were a few snags that occurred after the launch, however. Foremost was the malfunction of two parachutes designed to make the first-stage booster fall gently into the Atlantic Ocean. Just one of the three main parachutes opened properly after separation, causing major damage to the booster on splash down.

NASA engineers still aren't exactly sure what caused the parachutes to fail, although they do have theory. Systems engineer Marshall Smith said one parachute may have inflated too quickly, causing stress loads on the booster to exceed its limits. That likely tore the shroud lines on the parachute, resulting in the flapping lines damaging the second parachute that opened only partially, he said.

Some cable connectors also failed to separate. And the last 80 seconds of data on the on-board recorder were found to be missing. Recovery of that 80 seconds of data is still in work, although the first 270 seconds will be released internally later this month.

NASA plans to give two additional Ares I-X reports — one in January and another in February 2010.

Ess said space agency hopes to conduct the next Ares I flight test in a 2012 or 2013 timeframe. ®

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