NASA Ares I Rocket will be used primarily to launch the Orion Spacecraft to the International Space Station (after the end of the Space Shuttle flight program in 2010) or to ‘park’ payloads in Earth orbit for retrieval by other spacecraft bound for the moon or other destinations. The vehicle will also be used to launch the unmanned cargo supply version of the Orion, as well as unmanned satellites weighing at or less than 25 metric tons. Ares-I technology is based on Apollo and Space Shuttle propulsion elements. It is currently in development.

Ares I Rocket Picture

Ares I Rocket Name

Ares is a pseudonym for Mars. The name ‘Ares’ in Greek mythology is the god of war. The ‘I’ in Ares I refers to the single Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) in the first stage. The Saturn I and Saturn IB rockets used by NASA during the Apollo Program between 1963 and 1975 used similar numbering.

The Rocket

Ares I is an in-line, two-stage rocket configuration topped by the Orion crew vehicle and its launch abort system. Ares 1 will use a 5-segment Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) for its first stage, with a liquid-fuelled second stage powered by a single J2X rocket engine derived from the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets. The Space Shuttle program’s massive crawler carriers may be used to move Ares I rockets to and from their launch pad.

During the first two-and-a-half minutes of flight, the first stage booster powers the vehicle to an altitude of about 200,000 feet and a speed of Mach 6.1. After its propellant is spent, the reusable booster separates and the upper stage’s J-2X engine ignites and powers the crew vehicle to an altitude of about 63 miles. Then, the upper stage separates and Orion’s service module propulsion system completes the trip to a circular orbit 185 miles above Earth.

Once in orbit, the crew vehicle and its service module will rendezvous and dock either with the space station or with a lunar lander and Earth Departure Stage that will send the astronauts on their way to the moon.

The first launch of Ares I is foreseen for 2012. It will be followed by two unmanned flights of the Orion Spacecraft. The first manned flight to the International Space Station is foreseen no later than 2014. The first lunar excursion is scheduled for the 2020 timeframe.


Length: 93 m (309 ft)
Gross Lift-off weight: 900 t (2 million lbs.)
Payload Weight: 25 metric tons (55,000 lb)

Ares I First Stage 

The Ares I first stage is a single, five-segment reusable solid rocket booster (SRB) derived from the Space Shuttle Program’s reusable solid rocket motor, which burns a specially formulated and shaped solid propellant called polybutadiene acrylonitrile (PBAN). The SRB is similar to those used on the space shuttle, but with a fifth motor segment added. ATK Thiokol is the prime contractor for the Ares I first stage.

The first stage is slightly longer version of the space shuttle’s pencil-shaped solid rocket booster. Initial test flight known as Ares I-1, may occur in 2009. The test flight will use a simulated fifth segment on the first stage motor and a simulated upper stage.

A newly designed forward adapter will mate the vehicle’s first stage to the upper stage and will be equipped with booster separation motors to disconnect the stages during ascent.

Ares I Upper Stage

The Ares I upper stage (second stage) is propelled by a J-2X main engine fuelled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The J-2X is an evolved variation of two historic predecessors: the powerful J-2 engine that propelled the Apollo-era Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets, and the J-2S, a simplified version of the J-2 developed and tested in the early 1970s but never flown.

Rocketdyne, a division of Pratt & Whitney, will be the main subcontractor for the J2X rocket engine. Testing of the engine is currently underway at a facility north of Huntsville, Alabama.

Pad Abort Tests

Pad abort tests and high altitude tests with a Little Joe II-type system are foreseen from White Sands. They are foreseen for the early 2009 timeframe.


 * Originally, Ares I would have used a 4-segment Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) for the first stage, with a simplified Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) being used for the second stage; an unmanned version using a five-segment SRB first stage like that planned for the unmanned Ares V would also have been constructed. Because of a reduction in size of the Orion spacecraft as proposed, a decision was made in 2006 by NASA to construct a five-segment booster for both the Ares I and Ares V.

In addition to the redesign of the Ares I first stage, the possible problems and expense of converting the reusable, ground-started SSME to a throwaway air-startable engine led NASA to revise the booster’s upper-stage design around the J2X rocket motor. The J2X is a simpler and more rugged motor designed to be started in both the air and in vacuum and its projected cost ($20-25 million USD) is less than half that of the complex SSME ($55 million USD).

 * The name Ares I was officially announced on June 30, 2006. Formerly, the Ares I Rocket was called Crew Launch Vehicle.

Ares I Team and Partners

The Ares I effort and associated element project teams are led by the Exploration Launch Projects Office at Marshall, on behalf of the Constellation Program, hosted by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston and NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.

Participating NASA facilities include:

1. Johnson Space Center – responsible for the Orion and flight operations projects
2. Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Missouri – primarily responsible for J-2X and stage testing
3. Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio – responsible for vacuum chamber testing of the J-2X upper stage engine, developing the ascent development flight test upper stage mass simulator and upper stage power, thrust vector control and sensor development
4. Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia – responsible for aerodynamic characterization, ascent development flight test vehicle integration and Orion mass simulator development and support to flight mechanics and structure development
5. Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, California –  responsible for integrated health monitoring, blast modeling and reliability analysis
6. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans – assemble the upper stage
7. Kennedy Space Center, Florida – home to all Constellation launch operations and associated ground activities.

Did you know?

 * Ares 5 will launch using 2 five-segment solid rocket boosters and a cluster of J-2X engines – one of which is used in the Ares 1 upper stage.

 * ATK Thiokol of Brigham City, Utah, USA are the current builders of the Shuttle SRBs.


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