NASA will fire up its latest rocket this April for its first test flight. Ares 1 is designed to haul a 25-ton payload, making it capable of ferrying either six astronauts to the International Space Station or four astronauts to low-Earth orbit, where they can transfer to another vehicle and head to the moon. The rocket contains two stages: a reusable solid rocket booster and an engine powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. If all goes well with Orion, NASA's planned crew vehicle, Ares 1 will be whisking the first crews into space by 2015.
Read more of Popular Science's predictions for 2009.
I'm not sure the development program for this vehicle will survive until April since it has several very serious design flaws most stemming from use of a large SRB as an inline first stage on the shuttle the side mount's cross beam and the liquid filled ET act as a free damper that effectively deals with the thrust oscillation.
Second issue it might have been workable with an SSME if they could figure out how to eliminate the TO induced vibrations but since they switched the SSME for the lower ISP and lower thrust J2X the second stage now suffers from very high of gravity losses.
In short it's an LV with a dangerous vibration issue and a very poor payload mass fraction for a vehicle with a liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage.
It also needlessly replicates capabilities already existing in the Delta IV-H and soon Falcon 9-H which actually out lift Ares I by 800Kg and 4,500Kg respectively with the RS68A upgrades Delta IV's payload goes to 30T or 5T more then Ares I.
Also the Ares 1x test is not a test of flight hardware they are flying a dummy upper stage and a dummy fifth segment no one in the LV industry does this anymore and hasn't since the 1960s so in short it's more a PR stunt then a test flight.
Instead expect Ares to be one of the first things the Obama administration will cut and replace with a new CLV maybe something along the lines of direct launcher or derived from and EELV or Falcon.
Even starting over from scratch will save time over making a bad design work.
The Aries 1 may, or may not fly in April, May, June, or ever, according to Ruri's comments. But I think it has a better chance than the SpaceX Falcon. Of course it needs work, it hasn't even gotten to the launch pad yet. But let's give it a chance to fly. So far I have been less than impressed by anything from SpaceX. I certainly would not climb into a capsule with their name on it. I prefer to go with the Russians. Short of that, Obama wants to create jobs, lots of them. I am hopeful that will include not letting valuable aerospace workers go.
This is still rocket science folks, trial and error. Maybe the tests will show this vehicle will not work. But that's what unmanned test rockets are for. To answer those unknowns and pave the way for success.
total_loss, you say that the SpaceX Falcon "may or may not fly". In September of 2008, the Falcon 1 did reach orbit with absolutely no problems. The Falcon 9 was vertical at the cape by the end of the year, with a first launch scheduled within 2 months and at least 3 more launches in 2009.
I've seen others in other forums put down SpaceX but they never have any valid reasons (if they bother giving reasons at all). I suspect that it's sour grapes; people who don't like private industry doing it better than NASA.
The Ares 1 design seems to many to have flaws. Even the Russians wouldn't risk using a solid first stage to put humans into orbit. Solid rockets have many drawbacks; vibration, lack of throttling control, etc.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 has been designed and built using NASA's own requirements for a human-rated rocket. When they build the Falcon 9 Heavy in a year or so, it will be fully capable of taking over Ares 1's assigned tasks. And at a fraction of the estimated cost. I frankly can't seem to find anything they've really done wrong.
If you're looking for something to be "impressed" by, then look at the specs for their Merlin 1-C engine (designed and built in-house by Americans), which launched the Falcon 1 into orbit and has been test-fired to simulate a complete mission in its Falcon-9 configuration:
Sea Level Thrust: 125,000 lb
Vacuum Thrust: 138,400 lb
Sea Level Isp: 275s
Vacuum Isp: 304s
With a vacuum specific impulse of 304s, Merlin 1C is the highest performance gas generator cycle kerosene engine ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine and on par with the Saturn V F-1.