Friday, September 9, 2011

Is ATK the Newest Member of the CCDev Club?

Artist's Concept of
Liberty Launcher (ATK)
Next Tuesday, NASA and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will jointly announce an agreement that could "accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities."  It will not be carried live on NASA Television.

In the wake of the Russia's grounding of Soyuz launchers (effectively catching the U.S. manned space program with their pants down), the urgency to find alternatives is growing.

In April, ATK failed to receive CCDev-2 funds for the development of its Liberty launch vehicle. Undeterred, they decided to continue development of Liberty as a human-rated launcher in anticipation of future business with NASA (see SpaceFlightNow article).

I'm just speculating of course, but it seems highly likely that NASA and ATK have entered into a Space Act Agreement (SAA) to include the Liberty in the CCDev program.  Whether they will receive NASA funding, or work under an unfunded SAA (as ULA is doing in their efforts to man-rate the Atlas V, according to Aviation Week) is yet to be seen.

Even though the Liberty scored higher than the Atlas V in the CCDev-2 evaluations, none of the CCDev crew spacecraft competitors agreed to fly their craft atop the Liberty, according to Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc.  Are they nervous about putting people on top of a solid fuel booster?

I suspect NASA is trying to keep as many manned launch options as possible.  While no rocket is currently human-rated (even STS wasn't), The Falcon 9, Delta IV, Atlas V and now the Liberty are all viable options.  Increasing the competition may be the single biggest contributor to the hoped-for acceleration of the program.

UPDATE: I misread the press release-- the announcement wil not be carried on NASA TV.  Video highlights will be available afterward in NASA TV's Video File segment.

UPDATE 9/12: NASA has now decided to go ahead and broadcast the announcement live on NASA TV after all.  That's tomorrow (Tuesday) at 3:00pm EDT.

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