Ares-1 Rocket Could Be Re-born as “Liberty”


An idea too good to die, or a case of recycle, reuse, reduce? Two rocket companies are joining forces to use part of the Ares-1 rocket and combine it with elements of the Ariane 5 launcher to create a new launch system called Liberty that they say will “close the US human spaceflight gap.” US company ATK (Alliant Techsystems) and the European firm Astrium announced their collaboration today on a 90-meter (300-ft) rocket that would fit under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 (CCDev-2) procurement. The companies say the new rocket could be ready by 2013.

“This team represents the true sense of international partnership in that we looked across borders to find the best for our customers,” said Blake Larson, President of ATK Aerospace Systems Group in a press release. “Together we combine unique flight-proven systems and commercial experience that allows us to offer the market’s most capable launch vehicle along with flexibility to meet a wide variety of emerging needs. Liberty provides greater performance at less cost than any other comparable launch vehicle.”

The partners say Liberty would be much cheaper than the Ares I, because the unfinished upper stage of the Ares I would be replaced with the first stage of the Ariane 5, which has been launched successfully 41 consecutive times. The lower stage of the Liberty, a longer version of the shuttle booster built by ATK, would be almost the same as what was built for Ares-1.

he new Liberty launch vehicle will use existing infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center, such as the Mobile Launcher shown here. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

Since both stages were designed for human-rating, the collaborators say this “would enable unmatched crew safety.” The team has planned an initial flight by the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2014, and operational capability in 2015.

Liberty would be able to deliver 20,000 kg (44,500 lbs) to the International Space Station’s orbit, which would give it a launch capability to carry any crew vehicle in development. This is less payload capability, however, than the 25-ton payload that the Ares-1 was advertised to deliver to the ISS.

With the announcement of the collaboration (and quick turn-around) the companies are hoping to be the recipient of some of the $200 million in funding NASA is planning to give out in March 2011 to private companies that are developing space taxis. Smaller NewSpace companies like SpaceX and , Orbital, along with big companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing are all vying for the CCDev-2 contracts.

With some space experts and Congress expressing concern about the length of time it might take for commercial companies to provide reliable transportation to space, as well as concerns about relying on the Russian Soyuz vehicles, this new collaboration could fit NASA’s needs nicely. Plus, the collaborators are hoping the new Liberty rocket will be a bargain compared to other contenders. They are targeting a price of $180 million per launch, which is slightly less than the Atlas V rocket launches by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance, ($187 million).

The two companies have touted the new rockets’ ability to carry a wide array of spacecraft and satellites.

“The Liberty initiative provides tremendous value because it builds on European Ariane 5 launcher heritage, while allowing NASA to leverage the mature first stage,” said former NASA astronaut Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of ATK Space Launch Systems. “We will provide unmatched payload performance at a fraction of the cost, and we will launch it from the Kennedy Space Center using facilities that have already been built. This approach allows NASA to utilize the investments that have already been made in our nation’s ground infrastructure and propulsion systems for the Space Exploration Program.”

If NASA chooses the Liberty system and it works well, it could mean that the money NASA spent on the Ares rocket was not wasted after all.

ATK has put together this video about “Liberty”

Source: ATK

21 Replies to “Ares-1 Rocket Could Be Re-born as “Liberty””

  1. I can’t help but expecting that the first one will blow up because someone couldn’t decide whether to use Imperial or Metric.

  2. the collaborators are hoping the new Liberty rocket will be a bargain compared to other contenders. They are targeting a price of $180 million per launch,

    With ~ 25 MUSD/seat in a 7 seat capsule, they would be beaten by Musk price-tagging Dragon/Falcon 9 @ 20 MUSD/seat and readiness in 3 years if NASA gets its act together and gives a go.

    Congress expressing concern about the length of time it might take for commercial companies to provide reliable transportation to space

    But if we are discounting all other commercial efforts, the Orion Lite capsule has 4 seats so this will actually cost ~ 45 MUSD/seat. Also OL is claimed to be finished 2016. [Wikipedia, w refs.]

    Of course, these being 2 governmental contractors, likely using different CAD systems (shades of Airbus time & price overruns) and using likely different metrics as Sili notes, it is a rather safe and robust guesstimate the ~ 45 MUSD and ~ 5 years will be ~ 100 MUSD and ~ 10 years before it’s finished.

    … and it _does_ look ugly. 😀

  3. OK, but can we call it something other than ‘Liberty’? I love America, but I HATE that those buzzwords that they love to role out like ‘freedom’, ‘patriot’, ‘liberty’ blah blah blah.

    You’ve gone from naming something after the god of war Ares (which is indisputably awesome), to namby pamby ‘Liberty’ (which is indisputably crap).

    Oh – and it still has ugly lines.

  4. Ewww. Solid rocket first stage. ATK needs to get off their collective butts and do some R&D on something other than SRBs. You know, something that’s actually safe, cheap, and reliable, rather than their what their current designs have to offer: expensive, dangerous, and ineffective.

    Maybe if ATK stopped bribing senators and house reps to have ATK specific language inserted into NASA authorization bills and did some hard work (for once in their sorry existence), they could come up with something better.

    1. You forgot to mention the NASTY environmental damage from mining and processing the perchloride/aluminum/butel rubber solid fuel propellant….

  5. Seems like a workable proposal to me. If it can do more than SpaceX is proposing then a higher price is justified. I’m sure that Falcon will still find many customers for small payloads, so this is not really a threat to their business model.

    The bigger problem is having the US space program figure out exactly what its supposed to be doing besides flying random missions. If the larger vehicle really fits with their needs or if we’ve ceded the idea of manned space flight to other nations and just haven’t admitted it to ourselves.
    What is the end game supposed to look like?
    Its nice to be buying a rocket, but shouldn’t we first establish what we’re buying it for?

  6. Hm. More competition is always good, and if they can beat out SpaceX on price and reliability, all the more power to them, although I share the aversion to the solid first stage. My only worry is that the ATK booster in this rocket is an invitation for interference from congresscritters trying to retain shuttle jobs in their districts, and that this rocket might get picked even if it doesn’t prove to be the best.

    1. It can compete on heavy lifting (at least unless Falcon 9H isn’t in the competition), but:
      – ISS is assembled, so no more heavy lifts needed.
      – there is a whole fleet of crafts delivering 2-10 ton loads; in principle you could replace them with fewer and cheaper missions, but then you cut out flexibility.
      – the 2015 operational capability is a specific US boon if it was used for their manned launches.

      It is the political bastard it looks like.

  7. With SpaceX just getting environmental clearance to launch the Falcon 9 AND Falcon 9 Heavy from Vandenberg SLC-4E, perhaps the F9H should move up from speculation to something else. If F9H comes anywhere close to its projected 32 MT max payload who needs Liberty?

    1. Did you read the Feb 6th announcement that Astrobotic, Goggle X-Prize and Space-X are sending a lander to the moon by December 2013 using the F9?

      Ahhh yes…what will they get up to when the F9H comes along.

  8. -The objectives in this new era of commercial space include a) job creation, b) shortening the post Space Shuttle period of dependence on foreign space agencies and c) innovation. Using this rocket’s Astrium upper stage exports jobs to Europe (no offense intended) and would place the US space program in a similar predicament to relying on Russian launch vehicles (again no offense). ATK’s SRB first stage does nothing to innovate.

    – This proposal doesn’t include the crew capsule. The Orion capsule is too heavy for the Astrium upper stage, so they’re going to have to develop their own crew vehicle from scratch as the other CCDev-2 competitors already have launch arrangements in place via AH5, DH4, and F9.

    – The proposal rates it self as offering “unmatched crew safety”. Readers who have commemorated the recent anniversaries of some of NASA’s darkest moments are going to be understandably skeptical to see another SRB offering for Human Space Flight (SRBs can’t be tested fired or throttled or shutdown in the event that you have enough time to discover a malfunction).

    -This CCDev-2 proposal may also fall short of the EPA’s 2013 plan to regulate against further contamination of ground water supplies from the Perchlorate contained in SRB exhaust (Any thoughts on that Aqua?).

    – It’s a free market and this CCDev-2 proposal should be evaluated in a way that is fair and open mined, just not so opened minded that one’s brains fall out.

    1. The Orion capsule is too heavy for the Astrium upper stage,

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but they are using the Astrium lower stage specifically.

      That doesn’t have restart capability AFAIU, as the upper stages of Ariane, Falcon 1/9, et cetera. I don’t know how they handle ISS delivery from that basis, and how this is “safer” for manned flight.

      But Soyuz, which is reliable, doesn’t have restart when on mission to ISS either I believe. For that you need to add Fregat or Ikar upper stages.

      At a guess, no restart means a little lower safety but mostly a _big_ untold penalty on specific launch windows. Now Falcon-9 looks even cheaper. And safer.

      1. You’re right Torbjorn. Having noticed the Vulcain 2 upper stage lifts about 6 tons less than J-2X (once proposed as the upper stage of Ares I to take Orion to LEO), I looked at the 46,800 lb total mass of Orion and the claim that this CCDev-2 proposal will deliver 44,500 pounds to the ISS and then prematurely ruled Orion out. Silly me, maybe Orion is a candidate capsule after all (maybe NASA can sell an Orion to ATK and recover some of the sunk cash?) Thanks for picking up on that.

        On the bottom line, the F9 looks less expensive by a factor of three so far.

    2. Also, no restart means it is not (yet) the deep space “heavy booster” that can deliver to GEO and further out. It is a dedicated, dumb, costly ISS/LEO booster.

  9. No, the Ariane 5 core does not have restart or altitude start capabilities, and the second stage has only been tested once for restart. The bell of the core will have to be redesigned to provide efficient burn at the altitudes that it will reach. And, though the core may have been man-rated for the Hermes, it was not to our standards, and the design is somewhat dated at the moment. The 5-stack SRB has never been fired outside of a test stand, and it too will require man-rating. In addition, there is no capsule or space plane in more than rough prototype at the moment, and none promised until probably around 2017. It appears that the SpaceX unit can be ready by 2014 or before if the money is provided. It has the basic capsule already tested in space and returned, which puts it at least two years ahead of any other design. The only other tested return vehicle is the X-37, and it is too small for ISS and other needs. The basic item that SpaceX needs is a launch escape system, and with help, that could be readily provided.

    Some have made noises that the F9H is a pie in the sky. The F9H is nothing but 3 F9 cores strapped together, and the strength and attachment points are already designed into the F9. If it proves reliable, and that appears to be the case, then the F9H will merely mean some straps and revised software, allowing it to throw a lot more weight than this proposed monstrosity, and more than anything but some proposed versions of the Delta IV Heavy, which would require major strengthening of the core stage. Also, the DIVH is non-reusable, and it uses an all cryogenic system, making it more expensive to build, fly, and launch. The listed price for a F9H is 95M, and the Delta cannot even approach that. The comparable Atlas is still vaporware, and it uses Russian engines, which rather defeats the purpose of getting away from the Soyuz and other Russian rockets. In any case, both the Atlas and the Delta will require a major effort to become manrated, as that was not their initial design point. If we want back in space with an American rocket sometime before 2017 and at any reasonable price, the SpaceX is really the only one that has a chance.

    And, by the way, the engine that powers both stages of the F9 has already been restarted in space, which opens up a lot of missions. Since the Dragon capsule is already designed to carry 7 astronauts to the ISS, I cannot see any reason to delay going with it other than those Congressional constituencies previously mentioned. There are certainly no technical issues.

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