Monday, July 28, 2008 – Panera Bread, North Olmsted, OH
Ares 1-X Upper Stage Mass Simulator Development
On Monday July 28, 2008 NASA GRC project manager Vince Bilardo joined the 2008 Academy for a dinner chat at Panera Bread in North Olmsted. Vince is the project manager for the Ares 1-X Upper Stage Simulator project being run out of GRC. Ares 1-X, the first full scale test launch of the new Ares 1 rocket is currently scheduled for June of 2009. The unique thing about this specific launch is that only the lower booster stage will be fired during the test. The booster, a larger version of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) is technology that has largely been developed already. The upper stage of the Ares 1 however is a brand new design and will not be ready to fly by the June 2009 test date. In anticipation of this, a mass simulator is being built at GRC to simulate the liftoff weight of the forthcoming Ares 1 upper stage. It is the construction of this upper stage that Mr. Bilardo oversees.
Having toured the Ares 1-X Manufacturing Facility at Glenn is weeks prior the Academy had already had the opportunity to see some of the upper stage simulator pieces. The simulator is being forged out of steel to the exact specifications of the eventual Ares 1 flight models. At one point the question of “Why steel, its so heavy” arose. Vince answered the question by informing us that the 1-X test model will not be carrying any upper stage propellants, a large source of weight for the final flight model, thus a steel upper stage allows for a more correct mass simulation during the test launch. The final flight models will no doubt be made of a much lighter composite metal and will of course have full liquid propellant tanks at liftoff (LH2,LOX).
Another interesting note about Ares 1-X is that the launch will occur from the current Space Shuttle launch pad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center. 39-B is currently on hold for the next space shuttle mission, being flown by the orbiter Atlantis (which the Academy got to see earlier this summer). Atlantis will be launching off of pad 39-A, but due to the high risk nature of its mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, pad 39-B is being kept clear for the potential rollout of a rescue mission. This rescue mission will be flown by the orbiter Endeavour which will be stacked in the VAB and ready to fly should anything happen to Atlantis. Having both pads tied up has posed a rather interesting challenge to the Ares 1-X team because of the extensive launch pad modifications that will need to be made to pad 39-B before launch. The Ares 1 rocket is over 300 ft. tall, more than 100 ft. taller than the current space shuttle stack. Because there will not be time to redesign the entire launch pad by 2009 (a project that is planned for future manned Ares missions) the current shuttle pad will have to be modified to accommodate the 300 ft. Ares 1-X giant. The most notable modification is the extension of the lightning tower on pad 39-B to exceed the height of the Ares 1-X rocket, however significant modifications do need to be made to the mobile launch platform as well.
At the end of the talk Vince spoke with the Academy about his journey to his current position. Straight out of college he began applying for jobs in industry and government and was very fortunate to get an offer from the Kennedy Space Center. From that point, he said, his career took off and he eventually ended up in project management, a job he finds that suits him very well. When asked if he could do it all again would he do anything differently, Vince said he would not have let go of his dream to become an Astronaut so easily. Many of us at the table that night were more than convinced that Mr. Bilardo would make a great Astronaut, but I know we were all thankful to have such a dedicated and qualified individual working on the rockets of the future. Thanks Vince!