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New life for Liberty

September 13, 2011

 Thought it was a political post, didn’t you?

Nope – it has to do with the announcement today of a partnership between NASA and ATK’s Liberty Launch System. It’s an unfunded Space Act Agreement to provide “technical interaction” during the Preliminary Design Review phase.

ATK thinks they can have it ready to fly in three years. The first stage is a five-segment solid booster, which was originally designed for the Ares I booster. It was based on the Shuttle four-segment booster. A test of the five-segment model occurred in Utah a few days ago.

The second stage of Ares was to be a US-built new liquid-fueled stage. Instead, they chose the Astrium core stage from the Ariane 5 rocket. It’s been proven already to fly successfully. The trick will be to integrate the two.

Liberty is supposed to be able to lift 44,000 pounds to LEO, which would make it powerful enough to launch any of the current commercial manned spacecraft being built – Dragon, the Boeing CST-100, and apparently even the lighter version of the Orion. It was originally conceived as a launch vehicle for the European space plane Hermes, which has not yet proceeded beyond the design stage.

Hermes spaceplane

When the ATK 5-segment was being designed there were many concerns about pogoing, and it was thought that to damp the pogo effect a large weight would have to be used, reducing the payload significantly. The Ares test flight with the 4-segment motor must have provided data to the contrary – at least, I hope it did.

I think it’s significant that just as the commercial space vehicle companies are getting some traction, NASA is picking up on agreements with ATK/Astrium, ULA and LockMart. I can’t believe Boeing is dumping millions into the development of the CST-100 without thinking they are going to get a return on it. Somebody has been talking to somebody.

I just hope the little guys don’t get stuck out in the cold…

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