Hail and Farewell

HAIL to ATK’s Liberty Transportation System, under development by a U.S.-French team. Combining a first stage from the company’s Utah complex and a French second stage, Liberty may be the vehicle to get America back into the crewed rocket business.

The 300-foot rocket will be capable of ferrying astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station –- and even to an inflatable orbiting habitat designed by Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nev.

[Liberty would be built largely with existing components, as shown in this illustration provided by ATK]
Mike Jacobs, ATK program manager for Liberty, and Paul Karner, ATK program manager for avionics and control, briefed members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society on the project. About 90 members and guests attended the meeting Thursday night in the University of Utah’s Warnock Engineering Classroom Building.
The famous French Ariane 5 rocket will provide the second stage, while the first stage will be a stack of five shuttle booster segments. In the now-ended shuttle program, two solid-fuel boosters of four engine segments each would lift the craft to the edge of space, before ignition of the liquid-fueled main engine.

ATK’s partner in the venture is Astrium, the largest aerospace company in Europe, Jacobs said. “We’re also working with ESA, the European Space Agency, to get Liberty developed.”

[Mike Jacobs, ATK program manager for Liberty, speaking Thursday night. Photo by Cory Bauman]

Liberty will have “more performance than any commercial vehicle out there now,” capable of delivering 44,500 pounds to low-earth orbit. It may begin lifting cargo into space in 2016.
“We’re a complete service provider,” he added. The system will provide financing, schedule assurance, safety, integrated vehicle and ground system, and will launch the craft and monitor quality.
In addition, Liberty could carry one of the winged shuttle-like vehicles under development, as well as “U.S. military or commercial satellites.”
With 211 consecutive successful booster launches and 46 consecutive flights of Ariane 5, “We’re convinced we have the safest system,” he said.
“These elements were all built from the inception to launch humans.” The booster’s Reusable Solid Rocket Motors were designed for the Space Shuttle, while Ariane 5 was originally intended for a crewed program. Although it has not been used for astronauts, Jacobs said Ariane has “human rating built into it. …
“The way our philosophy is, to reduce risk on this transportation system, we start with a component, go to sub-assembly …. We test on the ground to reduce risk.” Among testing elements is an engineering development lab in Clearfield with a full-scale mockup of the system.

“We’re leveraging what was built for the shuttle down at the Kennedy Space Center” in Florida, including the launch complex and the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building, he said. “It’s the quickest and most effective path” to a commercial crew-launch capability.

[Holly Lamb, communications manager at ATK, helped take questions from the audience. Photo by Cory Bauman]

“It’s not a design project, it’s an integration project,” with work being done to wed the two stages, according to Jacobs. ATK is working on a guidance package for Liberty.
On the first series of flights, booster motors will be recovered from the Atlantic, as the shuttles’ were. But in later flights, which may number about two a year, Liberty won’t carry the gear needed to make the boosters recoverable, such as huge parachutes. Instead, that area will be converted to cargo space, allowing the system to carry 48,000 to 50,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit.

The improvement in cargo space outweighs the value of recovered boosters.

In the later flights, the boosters will sink in the Atlantic, in a region off-limits to ships and aircraft during the launch period. The Ariane will be heading to a similar section of the Indian Ocean.
“The LTS (Liberty Transportation System) leverages NASA infrastructure” and its work force at the Kennedy Space Center. Material and expertise there including the assembly building and the mobile launch platform will be rented under a contract with NASA.
“We have a great amount of talent down at Kennedy Space Center,” he said.
“Our plan is to get to our test flights in 2015 and then in 2016, after several test flights, to put the first crew –- the first manned crew -– on Liberty.” Jacobs added that from the onset, the first priority is safety.
Eventually NASA will develop an “advanced booster” to carry heavier payloads, possibly trips to Mars and the asteroids.

[Paul Karner, ATK program manager for avionics and control, helped explain the Liberty project and later possibilities. Photo by Cory Bauman]

Karner noted, “If we win the advanced booster (contract) we will go to higher performance,” most likely with a motor whose casing is made of composite material. For crewed deep-space exploration, a large vehicle would be built in low-Earth orbit, as was the International Space Station.
Several launches would be needed to complete a Mars explorer carrying humans.
After all, a six-astronaut capsule called the Orion could be put into space with one launch. But, “six people in that spot for a two-year trip -– even if you’re my best friend ….” he joked.

[Rendering of Liberty on the mobile launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, courtesy of ATK]

FAREWELL to Nightly News. I began this blog three years and four days ago and it has had an interesting run. I hoped to cobble together some of the entries for a book about one amateur’s experiences and observations about astronomy, “life, the universe and everything.” I still might do that.
But I think I’ve said about all I know or feel about the subject and continuing could become repetitious. I’m kind of tired of astronomy, frankly. Maybe that will pass and maybe not.
My expectations were too high, as this blog hasn’t caused much of a ripple in the space-time continuum.
Deepest thanks to the Deseret News, which has sheltered and nurtured me since 1971; has fed and housed my family and clothed us and allowed me to report fascinating stories, and paid for my travels; and, after my retirement, has graciously published this blog. And special thanks also to my wife, Cory, who has encouraged my astronomy and writings, and has been a wonderful photographer for the blog. Thank you too to our son Sky, the physicist who has corrected errors in the blog and suggested topics.
And so, unless I feel invigorated someday and decide to revive Nightly News, good-bye.

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