U.S. aerospace company Alliant Techsystems supported NASA's shuttle program by manufacturing the space agency's Solid Rocket Boosters (or SRBs), the pair of which provided most of the initial thrust to carry the spacecraft aloft. Now, the firm is looking to put that know-how toward building a manned launcher of its own.
The spacecraft being developed by Alliant Techsystems — otherwise known as ATK, the company's stock ticker designation — is a seven-person capsule that the company can launch on top of its 300-foot Liberty rocket, the latter of which has been in the works for a while.
This from Space.com's Denise Chow:
ATK had already been working on a new private rocket, called Liberty, which it submitted as a contender in the second round of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program last year. Ultimately, the Liberty rocket was not selected to receive funding, but ATK continued development of the booster under an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA. As part of this arrangement, NASA shares its expertise in designing and testing the rocket but does not provide money for the project.
The design for Liberty uses the shuttle's SRB and combines it with an expendable rocket developed by Europe's Astrium, the Ariane 5. In fact, the two systems stack on top of one another for a two-stage launch:
With its own capsule topping it all off, ATK could ferry NASA astronauts to and from sub-orbit, but also sees a market in launch satellites for the U.S. and other nations, as well as supporting private spaceflight with Liberty. One example given by ATK is helping to install space stations, such as the inflatable modules developed by Bigelow.
The Liberty rocket could see test flights as early as next year, with manned tests in 2015. If all goes well, ATK foresees itself being ready for action as early as 2016. That will put the company in close competition with SpaceX, Elon Musk's private spaceflight company that is scheduled to link its Dragon capsule with the ISS sometime this year, though there have been several delays.