Kennedy Space Center

Mission accomplished.

Ares 1-X, NASA's first rocket in its "new frontier" Constellation space exploration program, rose from its launch pad and pierced the sky Oct. 28 at Kennedy Space Center, FL - buoying hopes that the door had been flung open to a great future in deep space exploration.

The United States had a tall order for the 1.8 million pound, 327-foot-tall spacecraft, and it delivered. The test rocket represents a future space transportation system that will carry astronauts and possibly tourists on journeys to the International Space Station, to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The Ares 1-X is also the model for a vehicle that will literally launch the next generation of GPS radio navigation satellites into orbit and help repair and modify the 24 satellites already existing in the U.S. Department of Defense system.

The super spacecraft is new and experimental in many ways. Among its features, it runs on oxygen and liquid methane fuel instead of traditional fuels, called hypergolic propellants. The oxygen-methane combo is readily available, costs less, weighs less and is less toxic on the environment. This creates hope that the new-age spacecraft will be capable of going further into orbit and greatly multiply the length of time it can house and sustain human life.

On her six-minute flight, Ares 1-X recorded a library of data that, once analyzed, will be used to improve the design and safety of future spacecraft. The soundness of the structure and hardware were tested. The software recorded motor burn time, ignition, speed, thrust, pressure, payload limits, even the drag and the pull of the main parachute.

The second happy ending to the Ares 1-X story is the difference it will make in the 20-year-old U.S. Department of Defense GPS radio navigation system. The GPS network has been maintained by the Air Force since the 1990s. The constellation of 24 satellites, while still entirely functional and serviceable, occasionally need assistance, repair and modification and one by one will eventually be taken out of service and replaced with more technologically advanced models.

This is due to an ever-increasing demand - from the military as well as civilian worlds - for GPS tracking and navigation services and advances in GPS tracking technology. Improved signal transmission and location readings are certainly on the horizon.

Ares or her offspring will likely be the delivery vehicles for this new technology.

"NASA's Ares1-X launch vehicle is a significant development for GPS integrators and users," said Steven Moehling, Vice President of Sales for LandAirSea Systems, a leading provider of GPS vehicle tracking software, systems and accessories. "This demonstrates NASA's commitment to the space program as well as the proposed GPS modernization program."

The government is concerned about our GPS satellites becoming outdated. To keep the system running smoothly, Congress authorized a planned modernization. The 2000 action and resulting project were dubbed GPS III.

The project involves new equipment (satellites and ground stations) and better service (accuracy and accessibility of signals).

The U.S. GPS tracking system is, and has been, the dominant player in satellite navigation, so it is necessary to stay on the cutting edge of the technology. Historically, all countries have been dependent on the U.S. Department of Defense satellite system.

Yet, other countries are working on their own, alternative national satellite tracking and navigation systems. Would-be challengers:

  • Russia, in cooperation with India, has been working since the 1980s on its own satellite navigation system called the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS.)
  • The European Union and European Space Agency (ESA) have their own system called Galileo, with China and numerous other countries as partners.

Neither are yet operational.

Satellite navigation is crucial for any application where location information is needed. It is precise and reliable. In today's military operations, much of warfare planning, training and strategy are done on a network level. Even on the civilian side, GPS tracking and navigation has become a staple of everyday life.

A next wave of satellites is due eventually, to eliminate blackouts and failures of service. The NASA Ares 1-X flight might be the hope and assurance America needs, that the GPS system will not fall into disrepair.

Security measures in kennedy Space center for foreigners ?

I am Egyptian doing my PhD in USA. Is it OK to visit KSC or the security measures will be tough or even disallowing foreigners (specially from Middle East) to visit the center ?

I visited 2 years ago - and there were many, many foreigners there. They do have security, naturally, but I dont think you would be singled out in any way. Certainly have your ID on you - but it is well worth a visit, it is a fantastic place.

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