ATK to get unfunded CCDev agreement?

Last Friday NASA announced that the space agency and ATK would announce an agreement this Tuesday “that could accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities”. (The announcement was originally going to be only available to media calling into a telecon line, but NASA said Monday the announcement will be on NASA TV at 3 pm EDT.) The announcement has generated various degrees of glee or despair, depending on one’s opinions about ATK’s work on solid rocket motors it has proposed for its Liberty rocket and is seeking to have incorporated into NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket.

What seems likely to be announced tomorrow, though, is some kind of unfunded Space Act Agreement that is part of NASA’s second-round Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. NASA already has one such unfunded CCDev-2 agreement, with United Launch Alliance (ULA); when that agreement was announced in July, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that it “may speed the development of a commercial crew transportation system for the International Space Station”, language similar to the announcement last week. Given that the funded CCDev-2 awards focused on spacecraft development, unfunded agreements allow companies like ULA and ATK to keep their launch vehicle efforts on track, although they get no funding from NASA.

The announcement comes just after ATK performed the third successful test-firing of its five-segment solid rocket motor, originally intended for the Ares 1 and Ares 5 but now proposed for Liberty and SLS. An unfunded CCDev-2 award would help ATK keep the Liberty vehicle on track. There’s one problem, though: right now there’s no obvious commercial crew customer for Liberty. Of the four funded CCDev-2 vehicle developers, three (Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, and, most recently, Boeing) have selected ULA’s Atlas 5, while SpaceX, not surprisingly, is sticking with its own Falcon 9 rocket. Unless another company enters the commercial crew competition down the road, or one of ULA’s customers have second thoughts, Liberty may remain on the outside looking in.

4 comments to ATK to get unfunded CCDev agreement?

  • Arm Strong

    the Liberty rocket (like the Ares-1) can’t fly and the Atlas V + CST-100 hides a big bug

  • Coastal Ron

    I guess you can’t blame ATK for trying, and certainly it’s their right to give it their all.

    Now if only they could get a paying customer to sign on, then that would be significant. But otherwise an unfunded SAA is worth as much as they are getting from NASA…

  • Kendall

    Arm Strong: any challenges getting Liberty working and man-rated can be overcome, the only question is time and cost. Any with CST-100 on the Atlas V, every project starts with one enormous bug: “Testing has determined the system needs to be designed and implemented”. Nothing new there!

    There are a lot of dedicated and brilliant people working to get these systems not only working, but working reliably for low cost. This is a very exciting moment in space history!

  • […] companies didn’t win CCDev-2 funding but did get an unfunded Space Act Agreement to support continued study of the vehicle. In the meantime, though, the companies that did get […]

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