Unique Liberty Cargo Capability Unveiled

ATK unveiled plans today to have the company's Liberty spacecraft will now have a unique expanded cargo configuration. Image Credit: ATK

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.

ATK's Liberty Logistics Module looks somewhat similar to designs and vehicles produced by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. With the added cargo capabilities however, LLM has taken on a far more unique silhouette. Image Credit: ATK

“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.

In this diagram several various spacecraft are shown to scale in front of one of NASA's retired shuttles. The spacecraft closest to ATK's LLM is Boeing's CST-100 which is slated to conduct its first flight in 2015. Image Credit: Max-Q Entertainment for AmericaSpace
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


  1. I agree Tracy. This is pretty neat. A launch vehicle that can launch just about any spacecraft. Truly remarkable. Thanks for the article Ben. I really appreciated the image of space vehicles. I made it the background image for my desktop.

    • Michael – a launch vehicle that can launch just about any spacecraft. Remarkable. Clearly the Atlas V can’t do that, or the Delta IV, or the Falcon 9


  2. I think the Liberty makes much more sense than the other choices for the next round of awards, based on this crew and cargo capacity alone. They also have the most experience with man rated flight. To compete with SpaceX and Boeing, ATK has successfully lowered their overall costs and they are very good at meeting schedules. Atrium and Lockmart are also good partners with an enormous amount of experience in spaceflight. It looks like this team has a winning combination!

  3. Of the operational U.S. launchers out there currently, the payload mass that can be launched to LEO (51.6° circular) ranges between 9.82 mT and 26 mT. The current and estimated spacecraft mass domain ranges from roughly 6 mT to 22 mT.

    With a LEO throw-weight at the lower-end of that domain at just under 10 mT, the Falcon 9 is capable of launching only the Dragon spacecraft, with a mass of 6 mT.

    Boeing is targeting the CST-100 to launch on the Falcon 9, Atlas V, and Delta IV-H. But with the spacecraft’s mass numbers at 10 mT, the outbounds of what the Falcon 9 can deliver, it remains to be seen if that will come to pass.

    Next up would be the Atlas V with a payload of 20 mT. The Atlas could certainly launch Dragon and is the targeted launch vehicle for both the Boeing CST-100 and SN’s Dream Chaser. The Dream Chaser, with a mass of 11.3 mT, could not be launched by the Falcon 9.

    The Delta IV-H+, with the new RS-68A engines, is at to of the domain at 26 mT, same orbit. It could launch three Dragons, two CST-100’s and Dream Chasers, but only one Orion MPCV (~22 mT).

    If the Liberty Launcher has a payload mass capability of between 22 mT and that of the Delta IV-H, it could also launch any of the current or planned crewed spacecraft.

    http://www.spacex.com/Falcon9UsersGuide_2009.pdf (p. 19, T. 4-1)
    http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/product_cards/guides/DeltaIVPayloadPlannersGuide2007.pdf (page 2-10, F. 2.10) (See p. 10-13, Sec. 10.2.1 note that RS-68A boosts payload capacity by 13%)

  4. The Dragon is the only operation US spacecraft and this is what matter most.
    On top of this it is the cheepest. Why to use big launcher if your payload is low?

    I think the cost will be most important for future space vehicles and launchers. And the competition is the best way to achive it.

Alan Poindexter inside the Cupola onboard the International Space Station during shuttle Discovery's STS-131 mission - which he commanded - in 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

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