NASA have been fervently working on the next generation of space-age exploration, the main project and focus being placed on the Ares I-X rocket. Set to work in tandem with the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Ares I-X is an impressive piece of tech that has just gone into the first stages of assembly.
A new vehicle has been planned since the inception of the Space Shuttles that have been flying since February the 18th, 1977, and while they're nowhere near as cheap to run as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne (itself a fascinating, if lower-budget, project) the Ares I-X rocket seems to be a marked improvement.
The Ares is built from three distinctive stages, the first of which contains the initial thrust nozzle, solid rocket motor and the avionics system. Stage two (the upper stage) contains the Roll Control system for flight stability, the interstage coupling and the service module.
Finally the third stage contains the Crew Module (where the Orion will reside), which completes the journey into orbit. Since the Ares I-X is just a test rocket, the Crew Module is not going to be recovered, but the first two stages will parachute down into the sea to be inspected and checked.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Ares is that it isn't just a rocket, but one that is constructed from existing components used in the Space Shuttle's already proven technology - just redesigned and reordered for space. The Ares I-X is being stacked in a 'Super Stack' inside the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Each piece of the Ares was assembled within a 2000 mile radius of the complex, but every component is being drawn to the facility for assembly. There's a large gallery of photos posted over at the official Ares I-X gallery, showing off the hardware and construction gear used.
For pictures of the rocket assembly in full swing, there's a great post over at the Ares I-X Test Flight blog that shows off the massive scale. When launched the Ares will hit a top speed of Mach 4.7 - more than four times the speed of sound.
We love this space-faring tech here at Atomic, and these vehicles are set to power us into space for the next few decades. While we might not ever get to ride in one - we are taking donations for a ride in a SpaceShipOne!
Check out a pic of the proposed flightpath below, courtesy of NASA's official Ares gallery: