Team Liberty Announces Independent Assessment Panel

ATK has formed an independent assessment team to review safety and mission assurance for the company's Liberty system. Image Credit: ATK

In order to assure ATK’s Liberty program meets or exceeds safety requirements, the Utah-based company has assembled an independent assessment team comprised of leading experts in the space industry to determine how well the program’s various elements are doing in terms of crew safety and component integration.ATK announced on May 9 that the Composite Crew Module (since renamed the Liberty spacecraft) would be added to the launch vehicle and launch abort system that the company already has in place. This means ATK has the complete spacecraft and launch vehicle “stack.”

The Liberty system is comprised of a first-stage derived from a modified space shuttle Solid Rocket Booster, an upper stage utilized on the Ariane 5 rocket, a spacecraft and a launch abort system or LAS. Image Credit: ATK

ATK not only has the combined launcher and spacecraft but also ground and mission operations, passenger training and flight test crews. ATK has also partnered with Lockheed-Martin to utilize Lockheed-Martin’s simulators and test facilities.

Congress has authorized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regulate commercial access to low-Earth-orbit (LEO). This has been done to ensure crew and passenger safety. The various companies involved with providing access to LEO are waiting for these guidelines to be issued and rely on NASA for guidance in the interim. ATK has opted to put in place elements this assessment team to see that stringent safety measures are established from the outset. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has created a similar panel to oversee their human space flight efforts.

Liberty’s independent assessment team will be led by Bryan O’Connor with team members Ken Bowersox, Kevin Leclaire and Alain Souchier. This will allow the Liberty team to boast former space shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) astronauts along with experts in NASA Safety and Mission Assurance, commercial space business and cryogenic engine development.

“As we build Liberty using streamlined and affordable commercial approaches, we intend to maintain a steady emphasis on crew safety, which is why we brought together top talent for the Liberty independent assessment team,” said Kent Rominger, ATK vice president and program manager for Liberty. “We have one of the best teams whose background and expertise will ensure Liberty is safe and reliable for our commercial customers.”

The mobile launcher, seen here carrying Liberty, has already been adapted to deliver the similarly-designed Ares-1 rocket to the launch pad. Having these types of ground support systems already in place should allow Liberty to launch sooner than its competitors. Image Credit: ATK

O’Connor, a two-time shuttle veteran will lead the independent assessment team. He has a strong background in flight testing, program management and safety and mission assurance. Before he joined NASA, O’Connor served in the U.S. Marine Corps where he was a test pilot. While at NASA he was the space shuttle program director as well as the chief of Safety and Mission Assurance where it was his job to ensure the safe and efficient management of NASA’s numerous programs.

“I am looking forward to working with ATK on their commercial human certification plan for Liberty,” said O’Connor. “It is extremely important to get this plan right. Fortunately, they have a head start because all of Liberty’s subsystems were originally designed to be human-rated.”

The other members of the Liberty assessment team have similar backgrounds in spacecraft design and testing.

Ken Bowersox is a former U.S. Navy test pilot and space shuttle astronaut having not only flown four times on the shuttle but once on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as well.  He served as the commander of the Expedition-6 crew. In this role he was responsible for the orbiting laboratory for five months. While at NASA he served as the chief of the Astronaut Office Safety Branch and chairman of the Spaceflight Safety Panel. Until December of 2011 Bowersox worked as Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) vice president of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance. Bowersox will be in charge of crew training and commercial crewed certification plan for Liberty.

Ken Bowersox's background is replete with experience on mission safety and assurance. He was tapped by Team Liberty to be in charge of crew training and commercial crewed certification plans for Liberty. Photo Credit:

Kevin Leclaire is experienced in developing space-related companies. He has served in a variety of roles in private industry, all of them with a focus on space, satellite and technology development. Leclaire served as a senior associate at a venture capital firm whose primary interest was space-related organizations. Leclaire’s background makes him a natural fit to govern business aspects of the Liberty program. This is no easy task as Leclaire must ensure that Liberty has a solid business foundation while not jeopardizing crew safety.

Alain Souchier was the manager in charge of the design of the Ariane 5’s stage propulsion system as well as the cryogenic engine and stage propulsion systems on the Vulcain Ariane 5. As Liberty’s upper stage is the central core of an Ariane 5, having him on the team should be an asset.  Souchier has 30 years worth of experience in the aerospace industry and has been awarded medals from the French space agency (CNET) for his efforts. Souchier’s field of interest on Liberty will be the Vulcain 2 engine upgrades (these engines, normally ground-started need to be converted to air-started).

ATK signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA in September of last year and since that time has made steady strides in the development of the Liberty system.

For more information on Liberty:

“Hit the Ground Running”: Busy Space Station Times Ahead

Space Propulsion Group’s New Motor Roars to Life