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10/20/2009
03:24 PM
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Space Shuttle Successor Ready For Test Flight

NASA's Ares I-X rocket is set to lift off next week on first trial run.

NASA's Ares I-X test rocket sat primed and ready on a launch pad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday following a six-hour journey at snail's pace aboard a crawler-transporter that moved it from a nearby assembly building.

The rocket is currently scheduled to launch on Oct. 27 at 8 a.m., but mission managers plan to meet Friday to assess whether it's is ready to meet that schedule.

The Ares rocket is slated to replace the space shuttle as NASA's primary space vehicle over the next several years. It's also intended to gird missions that will see NASA return to the moon and explore further out into space—possibly as far as mars.

For manned missions, the Ares rocket will be paired with the Orion crew capsule.

"The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities, and ground operations associated with the Ares I," NASA said in a statement.

The test will see Ares I-X travel at Mach 4.7—more than four times the speed of sound—to an altitude of about 150,000 feet above the Earth's surface. At 130,000 feet, the launch vehicle's first stage will separate from the second stage.

Ares is designed to return to Earth intact by virtue of a parachute system and will be retrieved from its landing spot in the Atlantic Ocean by NASA recovery crews.

NASA also plans to test the Orion launch abort system three times between 2009 and 2012. An integrated test launch of Ares-Orion is slated for 2015.

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