NASA to help ATK develop Liberty launcher

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NASA has announced an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with ATK and EADS Astrium to develop the Liberty launch vehicle for the commercial crew development program (CCDev) and make the completed vehicle eligible for NASA contracts to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Unlike most other SAAs, NASA will not pay ATK to develop the system, but has pledged to devote up to 24 full-time and 50 part-time personnel to assist ATK. ATK will be allowed to use NASA facilities, including a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Liberty launch vehicle will use a five-segment version of the Space Shuttle's four-segment solid rocket booster as a first stage. The second stage is an Ariane Vulcain 2, currently used on the Ariane 5. Though both stages are human-rated, the Vulcain has never been used to launch a crewed spacecraft.

The inclusion of Astrium marks the first SAA with a foreign company, according to Ed Mango, NASA CCDev programme manager.

NASA declined an earlier funding bid for the second CCDev award round earlier this year.

 

 ©ATK

ATK announced the development of the Liberty system with EADS Astrium in February 2011. The launch vehicle, which will be capable of lifting 20,000kg (44,000lb) to low earth orbit (LEO), is based heavily on NASA's cancelled Ares I launch system.

The system was designed to take flight as quickly as possible, said ATK. "This design is so simple that we can get to orbit on two engines," said Kent Roninger, ATK vice president and Liberty program manager. The company hopes to fly a test vehicle in 2013, before declaring initial operational capability (IOC) in 2015.

ATK is studying additional cargoes and launch sites outside the CCDev program, Roninger added, including manned capsules.