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NASA and ATK sign new launch development agreement

At a press conference today, NASA and ATK announced a new launch development agreement, running through March 2012, to help develop ATK’s Liberty solid rocket into a launch vehicle that could bring both cargo and crews to ISS.

The agreement provides ATK no funds, but is designed to give ATK as much support from NASA as possible in developing Liberty, tested fired last week for only the third time. If this initial agreement goes well, it will position ATK to compete for the next round of development subsidizes.

According to ATK, they think they could launch by 2015, and are hoping to provide a rocket capable of flying the spacecraft and freighters of Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, and even SpaceX (should Falcon 9 have problems and they need a rocket to launch Dragon).

Once again, assuming that NASA’s commercial space budget survives the battles in Congress, this agreement bodes well for American manned space. NASA is now acting to encourage as many independent privately-built rockets and spaceships as possible. “We would like multiple providers,” noted Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. This is major cultural change for the space agency, which in the past acted as much as possible to control everything itself, and saw competing private companies as a threat to its turf.

As I have said repeatedly, the United States is presently going through a difficult transition, switching from the Soviet-model of a government-run space operation to the American-model of many privately owned companies freely competing against each other for business. This transition will take several years to play out, but when the dust settles, it looks like the United States will have many different ways to get its crews and cargo up into orbit, at a lower cost and with greater capability.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Joe2

    So you now support what is essentially Ares I under another name. As long as it is ‘New Space’, it must be good.


  • I think Bob is completely consistent in what he supports.

    Let the market decide whether solids or liquids are better.

  • gaetano marano

    the NASA/ATK/EADS agreement to develop and build the man-rated Liberty rocket (if it works well) will be the DEATH for ALL the companies, vehicles and rockets!!!
    that, since …
    1. the Liberty rocket should carry up to 30 tons to LEO … THREE TIMES the Falcon-9 or the Atlas V
    2. the Liberty rocket 1st stage (one SRB-5) is close to be ready next year
    3. the Liberty rocket 2nd stage (an Ariane5 core stage) already exists
    4. the Liberty rocket “should” be able to carry the Orion/MPCV that “should” be ready for a test launch in 2013 and this will kill ALL other “commercial” crew vehicles like CST-100, Dragon, Blue Kliper and DREAMchaser
    5. the Liberty rocket “should” born already man-rated, while the Atlas V isn’t man-rated and the TEN-engines Falcon-9 (probably) never will be
    6. the Atlas V and CST-100 duo (very probably) hides a BIG BUG that prevent them to work well togheter
    7. the Merlin engine (second) failure has given several concerns for the use of the Falcon-9 to carry astronauts
    8. the (failed) “launch” of the Blue Origin “space boiler” has clearly shown that, this company, has poor vehicles and is LIGHT YEARS away from be able to build man-rated rockets and orbital capsules
    9. the old, ugly, flawed and wrong HL-20-derived DREAMchaser should NEVER fly in space , or, surely, NEVER with a crew since it not even has a LAS
    so, the Liberty rocket will be a TOMBSTONE on ALL companies hopes to replace the Space Shuttle!
    Liberty rocket: $100M to carry 30 tons to LEO
    Falcon 9 rocket: $70M to carry 10 tons to LEO
    Falcon Heavy: just a dream without funds
    game over
    the companies are DEAD before actually born

  • I really wish Mike Griffin would post under his real name..

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Game Over?

    The Falcon 9 exists NOW. The Liberty might exist in 4 years if it doesn’t fall behind schedule like the Aries I did.

    The Falcon 9 actually puts more than 10 tons into LEO for less than $50 million (real figures based on actual flight data) while the purely hypothetical cost of the Liberty launch will not actually put 30 tons into orbit, according to ATK it will only put 22 into LEO…and we still do not know if it is a real or imaginary number since, of course, the damn thing has not flown yet.

    By the time ATK gets its Liberty working, it will be the Johnny-come-lately to the space launch game, competeing against the Russian Soyuz, the Chinese Long March, the European Ariane, and the American Falcon 9, Atlas V, and Delta IV…unless it can offer major benefits that the aforementioned launch vehicles cannot, it will be “Game Over” for ATK.

    I do not say this to suggest they should not try — more launch options is certainly better than fewer — but to act as though this is some sort of game-changer that renders everything else obsolete is ridiculous. Liberty is an attempt to complete a project that already has a spotty track record. Nothing more.

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