Orbital ATK Pursuing New Solid Fuel Launch Vehicle

orbital_ATK_logoDULLES, Va. — Orbital ATK is working on a next-generation medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle that it plans to have operational in 2019.

Details of the new booster were revealed last week in a $47 million contract awarded to the company by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Systems Directorate.

The contract funds Orbital ATK for “the development of prototypes of the GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor, the Common Booster Segment (CBS) solid rocket motor, and an Extendable Nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U upper stage engine.”


Competition on the Way for U.S. Military Launches

Amy Butler at Aviation Week has a very informative story about how new medium-class launch vehicles and commercially available satellite buses will help the U.S. Air Force reduce the cost of its launch operations. The key points:

  • ULA — a monopoly that operates Atlas V and Delta IV — will be facing future competition from SpaceX (Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy), Orbital Sciences Corporation (Antares), Lockheed Martin (Athena III, and ATK (Liberty).
  • The new medium-class launch vehicles and commercially-available satellite buses are leading the Air Force toward building smaller and less expensive satellites. Currently, satellite sizes and costs are driven by a desire to maximize the amount of capability in each spacecraft due to high launch costs.
  • SpaceX hopes to get the Falcon 9 version 1.1 — with its new Merlin 1D engine — certified to launch military payloads by the end of this year. The company must achieve three successful flights of the upgraded rocket with a payload fairing, two of which must be flown consecutively.
  • Orbital is looking to certify its new Antares rocket by 2018 while ATK is eying late 2016 for Liberty. Lockheed Martin has not identified a date for certifying Athena III.
  • The Air Force is making a bulk buy of at least 36 rocket cores from ULA. A request for proposal for 14 additional cores outside of the ULA order is expected in January at the earliest. The contracts would be awarded in FY 2015 for launches during FY 2017.
  • The ULA bulk buy has provided a $7 billion reduction in cost over the old method of buying each launch vehicle singly. The new arrangement also calls for ULA to purchase long-lead parts, which increases risks for the company but provides more predictability and stability in production.

Read the full story.

A Closer Look at the CCiCAP Selection Decisions

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Earlier this week, NASA published a Selection Statement explaining how and why it awarded $1.1 billion in commercial crew contracts to Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX last month. The 13-page document, written by William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, lays out how the NASA rated the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) proposals submitted by these three companies and ATK, which did not receive funding.

A summary of the document with the ratings and rationale is below.


Utah Congressional Delegation to Investigate NASA Commercial Crew Awards

Rep. Rob Bishop

There was no joy in Utah on Friday as ATK got shut out of NASA’s commercial crew awards. Awards went instead to Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX.

The company released the following statement:

ATK and the Liberty Team are disappointed that we were not selected by NASA for a Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Space Act Agreement. We continue to believe Liberty provides the safest, most cost-effective crew and cargo transportation systems, as well as the fastest path to recover America’s human launch capability and engage the workforce and facilities at Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Flight Center and others. We look forward to a debriefing from NASA.

Meanwhile, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop condemned the decision, attacked the Obama Administration for its poor space leadership, and promised an investigation in a written statement.

“I will be joining with [Utah] Senator [Orrin] Hatch, Senator [Mike] Lee as well as the rest of the delegation to further investigate every detail of how NASA arrived at today’s disappointing decision.”


Commercial Crew Announcement this Week?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles now tells me that NASA is likely to inform the companies of their decision on Thursday morning. There is usually a lag between that action and a public press conference.

UPDATE: NASA will publicly announce the winners on Friday morning.

Charles Lurio of The Lurio Report has emailed me saying that he has heard from a very reliable source that NASA will announce the next round of commercial crew funding on Thursday or Friday. This is no independent verification of this report.


NewSpace 2012: ATK Liberty Presentation

Liberty cargo module being berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: ATK)

Kent Rominger
VP and Manager, Liberty
ATK Aerospace

Kent gave an overview of the Liberty launch system, which is competing for funding in NASA’s commercial crew program.


  • 5-segment solid rocket first stage
  • second stage: Ariane V booster first stage
  • composite crew module (Lockheed Martin — leverages work being done on Orion)
  • cargo module based on scaled down version of flown NASA modules
  • Test flights begin in 2014
  • Liberty ready to fly with a crew by the end of 2015

Commercial Crew Possibilities

  • ATK willing to put own money into the system, which it views as commercially viable
  • If NASA provides a full commercial crew award, then Liberty would stay as an ATK project
  • If they don’t receive a full award, would probably spin off Liberty into a separate corporation
  • Crewed schedule slips to the right from late 2015 if not fully funded – shifts about 7 months with 2/3rd commercial crew funding

ATK Completes Final Milestone Under Commercial Crew Space Act Agreement

Liberty cargo module being berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: ATK)

ARLINGTON, Va., July 17, 2012 (ATK PR) – ATK successfully completed the last Liberty space transportation system milestone under the company’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA for the Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev-2).

The final milestone under the SAA was a Program Status Review (PSR) for the Liberty system. During the PSR, the Liberty team presented NASA with detailed progress of the program, including integrated master schedule, DAC cycle status, system requirements, software status, flight test plan, system safety review, ground processing certification plan and schedule for initial operation capability.


Liberty Would Deliver Crew and Cargo to ISS in Same Flight

Liberty cargo module being berthed at the International Space Station. (Credit: ATK)

ARLINGTON, Va., June 3, 2012 (ATK PR) -– ATK, the company leading development of the Liberty commercial spacecraft, is pleased to announce an expanded crew and cargo capability. The extended cargo configuration will allow the Liberty spacecraft to take full advantage of the launch vehicle lift capacity to transport a pressurized pod (the Liberty Logistics Module or LLM) along with the composite crew module.

Based on NASA’s 15-foot diameter Multi-Purpose Logistic Module design, the LLM will include a common berthing mechanism and will be capable of transporting up to 5,100 pounds of pressurized cargo. With that capability, the LLM could be used to transport four full-size science racks to the International Space Station – along with a team of scientists to perform the associated science.


Ex-SpaceX VP Bowersox on ATK’s Liberty Independent Assessment Team

U.S. astronaut Ken BowersoxFormer NASA Astronaut Ken Bowersox, who quit as SpaceX’s vice-president of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance late last year, is now advising ATK on how to human-rate its Liberty rocket.

SALT LAKE CITY, July 2, 2012 (ATK PR) — ATK and the Liberty program announced an independent assessment team and their first tasking to advise the company on development of its commercial human certification plan for the Liberty system, which includes the launch vehicle, upper stage, abort system, composite spacecraft, ground and mission operations, crew and passenger training and a test flight crew.

The FAA is authorized by Congress to regulate commercial human spaceflight. Over the next few years, the FAA will use a phased approach to regulating the crew and passenger safety of the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry. In the meantime, and in the absence of specific government human certification standards, the developers themselves must look to NASA and International Partner human spaceflight best practices and lessons learned to develop their own design and operations criteria. Developing the Liberty-specific commercial human certification plan early in the program ensures the system will be designed from the outset to ensure flight crew and passenger safety.


ATK Completes Software TIM for Liberty

ARLINGTON, Va., June 28, 2012 (ATK PR) — ATK completed its Liberty software technical interface meeting (TIM), which was held to support further development of the Liberty space transportation system under  the company’s Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA for the Commercial Crew Development Program.

The software TIM was conducted to evaluate Liberty’s software development plan with the NASA Liberty team. The plan governs the software process used by Liberty and its subcontractors throughout development, integration, test and flight.

“Understanding how your system will work together throughout the mission is critical in reducing risk and schedule delays,” said Kent Rominger, ATK Vice President and Program Manager for Liberty. “Holding this TIM provides us valuable insight into expertise provided by the NASA team and ensures there are no issues we are overlooking.”

The development of software is critical for understanding the entire system to support Liberty’s test flights. Unmanned test flights are scheduled for 2014 and 2015, followed by the first crewed flights in 2015 with Liberty astronauts.


Liberty Second Stage a Step Closer to Production

ARLINGTON, Va., June 28, 2012 (Astrium PR) — Astrium, the number one company in Europe for space technologies and systems, has successfully completed a set of tests on tank structures proving that key design and manufacturing processes used for Ariane launchers are ready for production of the Liberty commercial launch vehicle second stage with ATK.

The tests covering load-carrying cryogenic tanks demonstrate that existing Astrium processes can be leveraged to confirm the overall Liberty schedule and enable a speedy entry into service – and into orbit. Astrium is also working on leaner production processes for the second stage to bring best value to the Liberty launch vehicle.


ATK, NanoRacks Sign Liberty Marketing Deal

ATK and Astrium North America have signed a teaming agreement with NanoRacks, LLC, for NanoRacks to market opportunities for both astronaut explorers and the experiments they plan to carry into space on board the Liberty Transportation Service.

ATK Commercial Crew Video

NASA has released promotional videos for various commercial crew competitors. PA will be running them over the next few days.