ATK Liberty Launch Vehicle Targets First Crewed Flight in 2015


Artist illustration of LIberty.

It was 15 months that ATK announced with Astrium (an EADS Company) announced that they were working together and would compete in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 (CCDev-2) procurement. At that time they announced an initial test flight by the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2014, and operational capability in 2015. Today’s announcement reinforces the previous plans with a few changes and offers some new information.

ATK is currently working in an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA. With today’s announcement ATK said that the Liberty Launch Vehicle has developed into a “complete commercial crew transportation system, including the spacecraft, abort system, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations, designed from inception to meet NASA’s human-rating requirement.

ATK also announced that Lockheed Martin is now a major subcontractor. The first test flight is now scheduled for 2014 with the first Liberty crewed test flight in 2015.

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.

Liberty will enable a successful commercial space program and result in a globally competitive capability that America doesn’t have today,” said Rominger. “This program is changing the way we do business and can also result in a positive change to government programs.

ATK said they could support crewed missions for NASA and other customers by 2016 and that their price-per-seat would be lower than the cost of a seat on Russian Soyuz rocket. It is unclear who the other potential customers would be.

Currently ATK is funding the development of Liberty project themselves and would continue the project even if it does not get selected in the next funding round of the CCDev competition. However the schedules outlined today could not be met if they did not win NASA funding in the next round, said Rominger.

Astrium, the other major partner in this venture, who develop and manufacture the Ariane 5 launcher, will provide the second stage of the five-segment Liberty.

Commenting on the news John Schumacher, CEO of Astrium in North America, said “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.

Other subcontractors for Liberty announced today include Safran/Snecma, which provides the Vulcain 2 engine; Safran/Labinal out of Salisbury, Md., which provides second stage wiring; L-3 Communications Cincinnati Electronics (L3-CE), which provides first stage, abort and telemetry system avionics, as well as second stage telemetry and abort system integration prior to launch at KSC; and Moog Inc., which provides thrust vector control and propulsion control.

While today’s news did provide some additional information, ATK, like the other commercial crew competitors face an uphill battle for funding from NASA. The White House funding request for commercial crew has been cut by Congress and there is pressure to down select in the next round to one company.

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