July 28th, 2009, Glenn Research Center – Cleveland, OH
NASA GRC project manager Vince Bilardo talked to the NASA Academy group about his role and experience with the Ares I-X Upper Stage Simulator. He briefly reviewed the history and current direction of the space program, starting with President Bush’s call to go back to the Moon and the development of a vehicle to accomplish this by 2020. There will be a distinct gap in the United States’ spaceflight capability and we definitely want to keep that time period as short as possible by using proven technology.
This means that NASA has opted to go back to a rocket called the Ares I, and Bilardo is working on a test flight called the Ares I-X. Specifically, the Upper Stage Simulator was built right at Glenn. The goal for the I-X is to test and gain a benchmark for the controls, separation, staging, recovery effort, and to characterize the in-flight torque. Mr. Bilardo went over the vehicle as a whole, outlining the different stages of the 2 minute flight the I-X will be seeing to a maximum 150,000 ft.
The “tuna cans” that Glenn made as the mass simulators will be lost after the flight, with the hope that they will sink into the sea to become reef-bed material. Glenn received the project because NASA Marshall, in charge of the I-X test, was simply overwhelmed and had to reach out for help on the upper stages, creating extra work for those that needed.
Taking parts from the Peacekeeper for roll control, the I-X is an important test for the parachute test and avionics (instrumented for over 900 measurements, including temperature, shock wave, forces, trajectory, and more). The Academy group peppered Bilardo with questions about the flight, which he expertly answered before moving on to the post-discussion.
Afterwards, Mr. Bilardo discussed with the students the current state of the space program. Even with President Obama’s changing perception of NASA, the Augustine Commission does not seem likely to affect the I-X flight. Now with the president’s big push on education, it seems likely he would support NASA’s effort to get people interested in space once again and use that as a springboard to push young students towards STEM fields.
Mr. Bilardo expressed the importance of NASA, since while private spaceflight is a wonderful, admirable venture, only the government has the size and resources to take on the missions that will push the frontier. He went into his own history at the end of the talk, mentioning how he bounced around the country from center to center and that while he had some time away from NASA, he realized that spaceflight is his first and true love.