Aerospace • Utah's role is producing first-stage rocket booster.
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While it may be some time before tourists can book space travel, an announcement Wednesday from Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) puts that dream within reach.During a late afternoon webcast, ATK representatives revealed completion of the Liberty commercial crew transportation system, which includes the spacecraft, abort system, launch vehicle and ground and mission operations. Initial test flights are slated for 2014, with a test flight carrying a crew in late 2015.ATK is teaming with Europe-based Astrium, which has a record of 47 consecutive safe space flights with its Ariane 5 rocket. Liberty also receives support from Lockheed Martin."Our goal in providing Liberty is to build the safest and most robust system that provides the shortest time to operation using tested and proven human-rated components," Kent Rominger, Liberty's vice-president and program manager, said in a statement.Liberty will provide the United States with new launch capability, Rominger added, "and a schedule that we expect will have us flying crews in just three years, ending our dependence on Russia."The system knits together established infrastructure and flight-proven elements in its aim to produce a simplified, safe and relatively low-cost commercial product - although no prices were cited Wednesday since the company is competing in a NASA bidding contest that concludes in August.According to John Schumacher, chief executive officer of Astrium in North America, the Liberty system will be capable of transporting both crew and cargo - with payloads that could well include U.S. Department of Defense satellites. Space tourism is also in the offing, Schumacher added.Liberty's business model is expected to generate thousands of jobs across the United States and in Utah where ATK operates three facilities and employs more than 3,000 workers."The biggest thing for Utah is the five-segment solid rocket booster for the system's first stage," said George Torres, vice-president for ATK communications. Those boosters are produced at ATK's Promontory facility and have been successfully ground-tested horizontally three times so far, Torres said.ATK's Mississippi facility manufactures Liberty's composite crew module but those composite-manufacturing skills exist in Utah and throughout ATK's many facilities, Torres said.ATK serves as Liberty's prime contractor, producing all aspects except for the second stage, which is powered by Astrium's Vulcain 2 engine. Lockheed Martin contributes the crew interface systems design, along with other subsystems.