Liberating Ares in commercial rocket fray

10 02 2011

Rendering of the Liberty Launch Vehicle. (Credit: ATK)

The NewSpace rocket environment is growing from a band of determined forerunners to a healthy platoon.  Salvaging what they could from NASA’s cancelled Ares I rocket, industry giant ATK (responsible for building Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, a critical component in the Ares rocket design,) has teamed up with Eurpoean company Astrium (of Ariane 5 fame) to develop a new vehicle: Liberty.

Maiden launch of NASA's Ares I-X rocket in 2009. (Credit: NASA)

The vehicle, which will marry ATK’s bottom booster stages with an updated version of Ariane’s second stage and fairing, is the latest in an increasingly-heated competition for NASA contacts to ferry crew and cargo to the International Space Station after the retirement of the Space Shuttle.  Highly reminiscent of the Ares I design, Liberty joins the competetive ranks of commercial rockets such as SpaceX’s Falcon IX, Boeing’s Delta IV, the Russian Proton, and Lockheed’s Atlas V.

I am personally glad to see the Ares expertise utilized in a commercial design, and we who hope for widening access to space couldn’t hope for a better situation – one increasingly likely to stimulate competetive rocket vehicle pricing, innovation, and development.

Lockheed Martin returns to rocket fray

25 03 2010

Athena 1 rocket launching NASA payload in the late '90s. (Credit: NASA)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the commercial space transportation industry, and the news keeps pouring in.  Aerospace industry giant Lockheed Martin announced today that the firm has decided to resurrect its canceled Athena-class of small-scale rockets.  Presumably sparked by the appearance of new competitors Orbital Sciences and SpaceX who are offering similar services, Lockheed has partnered up with heavy-hitter Alliant Techsystems, (a provider for NASA Space Shuttle and Ares rocket motors,) to dust off the Athena rocket plans, upgrade its upper-stage rocket motor, and begin offering flight services to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2012.

Competition like this is exactly what the industry needs — Ramp up innovation, drive down prices.  Private space development hasn’t been this active/exciting since the mid ’90s!

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