Alliant Techsystems (ATK) along with Astrium USA and Lockheed-Martin announced today that ATK would soon be able to offer customers “one stop shopping.” The Utah-based firm will add a spacecraft to the company’s catalog. This will mean that Liberty will be a complete commercial crew transportation system. ATK made the announcement at the Spacecraft Technology Expo held at the L.A. Convention Center today at 5:30 p.m. PDT.
The Liberty launch system will now include the Liberty launcher, launch-abort-system or LAS as well as a spacecraft. This provides ATK with the complete package, something that only a handful of companies either currently has, or potentially could have. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has a launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft. Orbital Sciences and the Boeing Company both have spacecraft and launch systems that could potentially be combined.
ATK had already begun looking into and developing a spacecraft – but wanted to ensure that during the spacecraft’s development that it had access to skilled engineers with just this type of experience – they found it – at Lockheed-Martin.
“Combining Lockheed Martin’s and ATK’s decades of human spaceflight experience to create the Liberty space vehicle will help ensure America’s crew access to the International Space Station – sooner rather than later,” said Scott Norris, Lockheed Martin Lead, Liberty Program. “We look forward to our role supporting Liberty as it delivers on a highly-effective cost solution for NASA crew and for commercial missions.”
The trio of ATK, Astrium and Lockheed-Martin are working to both minimize the human space flight gap and end U.S. reliance on Russian access to orbit via Roscosmos’ Soyuz spacecraft. The Liberty system unveiled today will compete in more ways than one. The spacecraft detailed during the conference will be capable of conducting various missions. Crewed, cargo-only, crew and cargo and even satellite-launching missions are being developed. Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft has an unmanned variant, the Progress – today’s announcement means that Liberty will provide the U.S. with another launch vehicle / spacecraft system (SpaceX’s Falcon 9 / Dragon duo provides similar benefits). ATK promises to accomplish what the Soyuz currently provides – at a far lower cost than the $63 million-a-seat that Russia charges the U.S.
“Our goal in providing Liberty is to build the safest and most robust system that provides the shortest time to operation using tested and proven human-rated components,” said Kent Rominger, vice president and program manager for Liberty. “Liberty will give the U.S. a new launch capability with a robust business case and a schedule that we expect will have us flying crews in just three years, ending our dependence on Russia.”
Having multiple systems capable of completing the same task might appear to be redundant and wasteful – it is not however. If one launch system were to ever encounter an anomaly and require a review – the U.S. could turn to another company. This would mean no delay in launch services. After both the Challenger and Columbia disasters the U.S. was grounded for two years each time until the root cause of the accidents could be determined and corrected. Having a variety of launch vehicles and spacecraft would mean that this problem would not happen in the future. If a problem occurs with one spacecraft or rocket – NASA could simply move to another.
Test flights out of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are set to begin in 2014, a year later and crewed test flights will be attempted. If all goes according to plan, the complete Liberty launch system could be sending crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) – by 2016. This means the U.S. could not only regain access to low-Earth-orbit (LEO) but it could see new jobs created as well.
“Astrium is proud to be part of the ATK Liberty team and to provide our proven second stage, which is powered by the Vulcain 2 engine, as an integral part of this exciting next-generation launch system,” said John Schumacher, CEO of Astrium in North America, an EADS North America company. “Initially, we will ship the second stage to the Kennedy Space Center where it will be integrated by the skilled workforce there. However, once Liberty’s business base is established in the U.S. market, we envisage Liberty upper stage manufacturing in the United States.”
Liberty’s test flights are expected to begin in 2014, with a crewed mission anticipated in late 2015. The current schedule will support crewed missions for NASA and other potential customers by 2016, with a price-per-seat that is projected to be lower than the cost on the Russian Soyuz rocket.