Thursday, May 10, 2012

Liberty and the Pursuit of NASA

An artist's concept of Liberty arriving at Launch Complex 39B. Image source: ATK via

Solid rocket booster manufacturer ATK held a press conference yesterday to unveil its Liberty commercial crew design, which includes a composite crew capsule from Lockheed Martin.

While attention has been focused on SpaceX, Boeing and the other funded commercial crew candidates, little has been heard about Liberty since ATK entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA in September 2011.

Three of the four commercial crew candidates — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin — are partnered with United Launch Alliance to use the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. SpaceX will use their Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Dragon capsule.

The next phase of the commercial crew competition requires entrants to submit a complete integrated system — launch vehicle, crew vehicle, mission control and ground support. Lacking a partner, ATK solved that problem by resurrecting a composite crew module design formerly tested by NASA.

Click the arrow to watch the ATK promotional video.

The press conference unveiled a promotional video that includes a child reading an essay about wanting to fly into space. ATK also has a Liberty web site.

When asked if ATK would proceed with Liberty should they not win NASA funding, ATK spokesperson Kent Roeminger said:

"Without that, yes, we continue on with discretionary funding but the pace is much slower. By no means would we be flying in this decade. And so, it delays us years."

In other words ... No NASA funding, no Liberty.

The design, using existing Shuttle and Constellation hardware, would seem to appeal to Congressional lawmakers who have demanded that NASA end the commercial crew competition and simply select one vendor. Many space subcommittee members in recent Congressional hearings have stated that they don't care about innovation or competition.

ATK and Lockheed Martin are lobbying heavyweights on Capitol Hill. According to, ATK has already spent $390,000 on lobbying in 2012 after spending $1.36 million in 2011. classified Lockheed Martin as a "heavy hitter" which spent $15.1 million in 2011 on lobbying.

The SpaceX political action committee, in contrast, has spent $78,000 in 2012. A blog called The BLT reported in December 2011 that SpaceX spent $500,000 in lobbying in 2011 but did not cite a source for that claim.

Media articles about the press conference are below.

Florida Today "ATK Lobbies for Liberty" "ATK Announce Liberty KSC Test Flights, Reveal Crew Spacecraft with MLAS" "ATK Pitches Liberty Rocket for Commercial Crew" "ATK Adds Crew Capsule to Liberty Rocket Proposal"

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