February 8, 2011

Low-Cost Commercial Space Launcher Planned

Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems and Astruim, the European manufacturer of Ariane 5 rocket, have announced plans to team up and produce a low-cost commercial launcher that could one day be used to deliver astronauts, scientific payloads, and even astronauts into space.

The partnership, first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, will focus on the development of a 300-foot rocked dubbed 'Liberty' that will cost just $180 million per launch to operate--an estimated savings of 40% over many current launchers, according to AFP reports.

However, Andy Pasztor of the Journal noted that the deal "faces stiff financial and political hurdles in the U.S., as well as tough competition from rivals."

"The venture will need to persuade the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] to provide it part of the $200 million earmarked for spurring manned commercial-space ventures," Pasztor said. "Several rivals also are expected to get a share of that money"¦ [and] before starting full-bore development, the Liberty partners also will have to find a way to maneuver around expected political hurdles on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers previously have stymied NASA from pursuing various other ambitious, commercial-space efforts."

Alliant Techsystems is one of the foremost makers of space shuttles, while Astrium is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense & Space Company (EADS), designers of civil and military aircraft as well as the Ariane rocket, which is used primarily to launch satellites. The two companies are hoping to test their new, more affordable commercial launcher by 2013, according to reports.

According to Kenneth Chang of the New York Times, the proposed rocket "is essentially a commercial version of the Ares I, the expensive NASA rocket that Congress and the Obama administration canceled last year" when they scrapped a proposed return voyage to the moon. Chang added, though, that Liberty would be "much cheaper" to produce than the Ares I, because of the replacement of the upper stage of the rocket with the EADS' Ariane 5.

"The Liberty could also solve other issues," Chang claims. "Launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it would generate about 300 jobs and make use of facilities that might otherwise sit idle after the space shuttles are retired this year."


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