10 May 2012
Illustration of the new Liberty launch system, which uses parts of the Ares 1 rocket and Europe's Ariane 5 rocket, will use the existing platform at Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: ATK)

The aerospace company that built solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle announced it is developing its own private launch system, a spaceship and rocket that will fly astronauts to and from low Earth orbit.  The first manned missions could launch in about three years.

Alliant Techsystems (ATK), a Utah-based company announced the new project at the first Spacecraft Technology Expo, a gathering of thousands of government and industry officials that discussed innovative new technologies along with the future of human spaceflight.

ATK had been working on Liberty, a new private rocket which was a contender in the second round of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program last year.  Liberty did not receive funding but they continued development under an unfunded "Space Act Agreement" with NASA.  This agreement involved NASA sharing expertise with ATK but no money was provided.

ATK's Kent Rominger, vice president and program manager for Liberty has revealed plans for a complete launch system that uses the Liberty rocket, which includes a space capsule to carry passengers to low-Earth orbit and to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Liberty System

The spacecraft will carry seven passengers or combinations of crew and cargo.  The eventual goal is to provide services to the U.S. for satellites.

ATK hopes to use Liberty as more than just a taxi to ISS, they also hope to get involved with space tourism.

"We are looking at space tourism," Rominger said. "Also other [space] stations, such as Bigelow — we can help build the station. We're also looking at other nations that aren't partners on the space station that would like to have stand-alone missions."

Test flights are scheduled to begin in 2014 and the first manned flight in late 2015, according to ATK officials.  This puts Liberty in a position to be available to NASA and customers by 2016.

Ground testing has already began on the rocket systems.  Liberty's five-segment solid motor is the world's largest solid rocket motor, originally slated to be the first stage of the Ares 1 rocket that NASA was to use to launch the Orion capsule to the moon.  The rocket was canned after funding was cut to the Constellation program.

Liberty will use the original Ares 1 engine for the first stage and the European Astrium Ariane 5 rocket as the second.  Liberty will be 300 feet (91 meters) tall.

The ATK-Astrium Liberty launch vehicle shown here combines systems from the shuttle fleet and the Ariane 5 rocket. (Credit: ATK)

"Liberty can lift more than any other system," Rominger said. "Our capabilities can carry seven crew and significant cargo, which I think is unique. We really are a launch system designed for the 21st century to bring better reliability and safety."

Now that the shuttle fleet is retired, the agency is relying strictly on Russian Soyuz rockets to get astronauts to and from ISS until other alternatives are available, hopefully by 2017.  With Liberty it would be cheaper, though no exact figures have been given, than the $63 million per seat they pay Russia.

The Liberty's Composite Crew Module. (Credit: ATK)





Source:  Spaceflightnow

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