Several companies are vying to launch cargo and crew to the International Space Station(ISS). Most companies are focused on doing one or the other, whether it is SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, or any of the others participating in NASA’s commercial cargo or crew programs. Today ATK announced that its Liberty Launcher will have a cargo capability in addition to launching its crewed spacecraft. This is not unique SpaceX’s Dragon can carry some amount of unpressurized cargo behind the Dragon spacecraft. What differentiates ATK’s solution is launching 5,000 lbs (2.27 mT) of pressurized cargo at the same time it launches a crewed spacecraft. This is something no other company has yet offered.
The Liberty Logistics Module or LLM, which is based off of NASA’s Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, will provide a shirt-sleeve environment for cargo and will be stored behind the Liberty crewed spacecraft at launch and docking with ISS. The LLM will include a common berthing mechanism and could be used to transport four full-sized science racks to the International Space Station. To date, none of the companies involved in either of NASA’s commercial cargo or crew development programs have brought this sort of crew and cargo capability to the table allowing ATK’s offering to stand out among other competitors.
“Liberty’s expanded service allows us to bring a commercial capability delivering up to seven crew members, 5,000 pounds of pressurized cargo, along with external cargo in a single flight,” said Kent Rominger, ATK vice president and program manager for Liberty. “This results in tremendous value since all other commercial offerings would need two flights to accomplish what Liberty does in one.”
The LLM will have a common berthing mechanism that is used by all the spacecraft that berth to the ISS. LLM will have a cargo capacity of 5,100 pounds of pressurized cargo. What this means is that the LLM could transport four full-sized science racks to the orbiting laboratory along with the scientists that would conduct the experiments.
Video courtesy of ATK
According to a press release issued by ATK Liberty is designed to not only revolutionize access to low-Earth-orbit or LEO – but to also do so safely and reliably.
Liberty is unique among the many companies vying to provide a vehicle to return astronauts to LEO in that it is an international affair. While the first stage is a highly-modified solid rocket booster (SRB) similar to what was used on the space shuttle, the upper stage consists of the core stage of an Ariane 5 rocket. Astrium an EADS company will provide this element of the Liberty system. Astrium is based out Paris, France.
Human-rating launch vehicles and spacecraft is complex endeavor – one which neither company involved in this project has to worry about as they have already accomplished this goal. The SRB-derived first stage comes from the human-rated space shuttle and the upper stage comes from the Ariane 5 – which was developed to launch Europe’s Hermes shuttle before the program was cancelled.
Liberty became a complete commercial crew system on May 9 of this year with the announcement of the addition of the Liberty spacecraft. The Liberty system now comprises the “full package” with a human-rated composite spacecraft, advanced abort system, a launch vehicle as well as ground and mission operations.
Uncrewed test flights are scheduled for 2014 and 2015, followed by the first crewed flights in 2015 with a Liberty flight crew planned to fly to the International Space Station. Although there are numerous commercial designs and spacecraft out there – industry experts point to Liberty as the system in the lead.
“Only one system has everything to accomplish commercial cargo and crew and that’s Liberty,” said long-time aerospace correspondent Jay Barbree during the recent unveiling of the Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Liberty has the launcher, spacecraft, launch abort and ground support systems.”
For more information on Liberty: www.libertyspace.us