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NASA drop at YPG sets record
The same day NASA successfully conducted an Ares I drogue parachute drop test, President Barack Obama restored funding to the space agency's next-generation manned space program, which he had canceled earlier this year.
Alliant Techsystems, along with NASA, the U.S. Army and the United Space Alliance (USA), broke the record for the largest single load extracted out of a C-17 aircraft during the test, which was conducted at Yuma Proving Ground early Wednesday morning.
During the test, a record-breaking weight of 78,000 pounds of payload was dropped from a C-17 aircraft flying at 25,000 feet. The previous record was 72,000 pounds.
After release, the payload accelerated to a predetermined velocity before the 68-foot-diameter drogue parachute was deployed. The drogue parachute is designed to reorient and decelerate the first-stage booster to an acceptable speed and condition before the three main parachutes are deployed.
This test exercised the drogue parachute to its intended 450,000-pound design load for the Ares I first stage. Initial data indicate the test met all objectives.
“The postflight data we collect from the shuttle program and now in the next generation are a unique key element to human-rating,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager Space Launch Systems, ATK Aerospace Systems. “Today’s test validates the deceleration system will work in future flights and continue to provide us with a wealth of information.”
Similar to the shuttle program, the Ares I first stage solid rocket motor is designed to be recovered to collect valuable postflight data and reused.
The test data will be used to aid engineers in understanding the motor’s performance, ensuring it remains within design parameters.
The main parachutes for the Ares I recovery system are 20 percent larger than the one currently used on the shuttle boosters, to accommodate for the added weight of the fifth segment.
Reviving the NASA crew capsule concept, along with the rest of the moon program, is a move that will mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said Tuesday.
YPG spokesman Chuck Wullenjohn said NASA having its funding restored could mean YPG will continue conducting tests for the space agency, which it has done for the past several years.
Wullenjohn said NASA is just one of the many customers the installation's Air Delivery System has, and the loss of the testing would not have a major effect on the overall test load.
YPG's Air Delivery System is the division conducting the parachute drop tests. Wullenjohn added that NASA is not scheduled to return for more testing until next spring.
The space capsule, called Orion, still won’t go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the International Space Station to stand by as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials said.
Administration officials also said NASA will speed up development of a massive rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.
The two moves are being announced before a visit todayThursday to Cape Canaveral, Fla., by Obama. They are designed to counter criticism of the Obama administration’s space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware and local jobs.
The president killed President George W. Bush’s moon mission, called Constellation, as being unsustainable. In a major shift, the Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station.
But it also extends the space station’s life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocket ships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, the moon, Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars.
First man on the moon Neil Armstrong, veteran Apollo astronauts and former senior NASA managers have been attacking the Obama plan — before the latest revision — as the death of U.S. leadership in space. Armstrong in an e-mail to The Associated Press said he had ‘‘substantial reservations,’’ and more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans signed a letter calling the plan a ‘‘misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future.’’
Even with the revival of the Orion crew capsule, the overall moon return mission initiated by Bush — which involved a base camp — remains dead. And the revived Orion, slimmed down from earlier versions, won’t be used as originally intended, to land on the moon.
The capsule will be developed and launched — unmanned — on an existing rocket to the space station, said a senior NASA official who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to detract from the presidential announcement. The Orion would remain at the space station and be used as an emergency escape ship back to Earth. That would mean NASA wouldn’t have to rely on the Russian Soyuz capsule to return astronauts to Earth.
Launching Orion on unmanned existing rockets — such as Atlas or Deltas — would save money and time.
The Obama plan also will speed up development of a larger, ‘‘heavy-lift’’ rocket that would take cargo and crew away from Earth orbit to the moon, asteroids and other places.
Originally, Obama was proposing just spending billions of dollars on various research programs to eventually develop breakthroughs to make such trips cheaper and faster. Critics said that plan was too vague.
Now, the president is committed to choosing a single heavy-lift rocket design by 2015 and then starting its construction, officials said.
This shift by Obama means NASA would launch a heavy rocket years before it was supposed to under the old Constellation plan, the NASA official said. However, it will be different from the Apollo-like Ares V rocket that the Constellation plan would have used. Instead it will incorporate newer concepts such as refueling in orbit or using inflatable habitats, officials said.
Overall, the Obama program will mean 2,500 more Florida jobs than the old Bush program, a senior White House official said. In addition, the commercial space industry on Tuesday released a study that said the president’s plan for private ships to fly astronauts to and from the space station would result in 11,800 jobs.
The changes elicited cautious early praise from officials on Capitol Hill representing states with space jobs.
‘‘It is an encouraging development,’’ said Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, a vulnerable freshman Democrat who represents the district including Kennedy Space Center. ‘‘I look forward to reviewing the full details of the plan to determine if it does enough to protect Space Coast jobs and maintain America’s international leadership in space, science and technology.’’
Much of the work by Lockheed Martin on building Orion is done in Colorado, and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., praised the changes: ‘‘While NASA still faces difficult challenges ahead, this is great news for Colorado — and the nation’s leadership in space.’’
But NASA legend Chris Kraft, who directed mission control from Mercury through Apollo, said the changes to the Obama plan didn’t address his main concerns, which included retirement of the space shuttle.
‘‘They’re concentrating on the wrong thing,’’ Kraft said Tuesday evening. ‘‘The problem is not safety on space station and escape; the problem is getting to and from the space station.’’
Kraft said he sees no reason to speed up work on a new larger rocket, saying, ‘‘We need a heavy-lift vehicle like we need a hole in the head.’’
The Associated Press contributed to this article.