Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summary of NASA/ATK Commercial Crew Announcement

At 3:00pm EDT today, NASA and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) made a joint announcement regarding a possible acceleration of LEO crew transportation (see the Press Release here).

Ed Mango, NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager, began his remarks by pointing out that Commercial Crew is making making steady progress, with development remaining on time, and on budget.  He then went to announce, as expected by many, that CC has entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) that will allow NASA and ATK to share information, and it grants ATK access to Kennedy Space Center during Liberty development.  The agreement will run though next spring, and will include a series of milestones agreed to by both parties.  This SAA puts ATK in a position to be ready to compete in the next CCdev phase.

Kent Rominger from ATK expounded on the virtues of Liberty, noting that both stages have extensive flight experience.  The first stage is an SRB from the STS, and the upper stage is the Ariane 5 Core stage (45 consecutive successful flights for the upper stage).

Mr. Rominger answered the question "Why Liberty?" with the following points:
  • They believe it is the safest, most reliable means to put crew on orbit.
  • Liberty can lift 44,000 lb to LEO.
  • The White House's new Space Policy calls for expanded international cooperation, and that's what Liberty is (a U.S. and European commercial partnership)
  • This will bring jobs into Florida, and take advantage of existing infrastructure and talent.
  • Liberty is extremely simple.  One engine on first stage, one on the second.  Minimize things that can go wrong, so you minimize opportunities for a failure.
  • No other provider can match our value, or our safety record.
During the Q&A session, a few interesting points were made:
  1. Kent Rominger referred to NASA's human rating requirements as "onerous."  Nevertheless, the two stages of Liberty were each developed from the beginning as parts of launch systems intended for human flight, and they believe they can meet the requirements.
  2. Ed Mango made it clear that NASA is NOT interested in doing spacecraft integration (crew vehicle to launcher).  They will give their business to commercial teams that offer a fully integrated solution.
  3. Kent Rominger stated that ATK will continue working on Liberty and maturing the system whether they are recipients of CCDev 3 funds or not.
  4. Ed Mango: We want multiple providers for carrying crew to LEO.  That assumes that there is sufficient funding at NASA to support this.  We'll always have a Russian capability available, and we won't say no to that.
I'll follow up with some analysis later.  Here's a video to bring you up to speed on the Liberty:

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