Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will develop a composite crew compartment with support from Lockheed Martin as part of a complete launch system being proposed with partner Astrium for NASA’s commercial crew program.

Unveiling new details about the Liberty project, ATK says the system is on track for initial tests in 2014, with the first crewed test mission anticipated as early as 2015. Kent Rominger, ATK vice president and Liberty program manager, says the test plan supports crewed missions for NASA by 2016 and is built on flight-proven elements.

“We’re at the point where (the U.S.) reputation is on the line, and hopefully when people see Liberty they’ll recognize the whole system is unique in that it has been designed from the outset to meet NASA’s human-rated standards,” says Rominger. Although ATK and Astrium have previously detailed the use of a five-segment, space shuttle-derived solid first-stage and Ariane 5-based liquid-fueled upper-stage for Liberty’s combined configuration, the team has not previously discussed details of the crew capsule, abort system and other elements of its proposal.

Liberty is one of several competing system-level proposals for the third phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap). Proposals for the contest were submitted in March, with expectations of multiple follow-on contracts valued at between $300 million and $500 million due to be awarded in early August. Other contenders include Blue Origin, Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Sierra Nevada.

“Unlike when we bid on CCDev2 (Commercial Crew Development two), now we have an entire system,” says Rominger who adds that the spacecraft leverages design work performed at NASA Langley Research Center on the composite crew module and the pusher-based Maximum Launch Abort System (MLAS), for which ATK was a contractor, as well as service module design work performed by NASA Glenn Research Center. “We’re using all that work and, in some cases, making it less capable to suit the less demanding missions to low Earth orbit.”

ATK’s crew module development comes as the manufacturer’s aerospace structures division continues its company-wide strategic push for a larger role in composite assembly for commercial, military and space markets. As well as wing skins and nacelles for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, ATK produces stringers and frames for the majority of the Airbus A350 fuselage in addition to engine cases for the Boeing 747-8 and A350. Composite structures for space applications include large elements of the Delta 4, Atlas 5, Ariane 5 and more than 11,100 rocket motor cases.

As well as providing the crew module and MLAS, ATK is responsible for the first stage, system integration and ground and mission operations, while Astrium provides the Vulcain 2-powered second stage. Lockheed Martin will provide subsystems and other support including access to the same supply chain providing components and systems for the Orion capsule, as well as the use of its recently-completed Space Operations Simulation Center near Denver. “With things like backshells, heat shields, guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) and so on, we are trying to leverage all those things,” says Rominger.

Lockheed Martin will work with ATK to tailor the design of subsystems for the crew compartment to suit the “specific mission requirements” of the LEO mission, says Scott Norris, Lockheed Martin Lead for Liberty. Aside from “implied” savings in cost from the use of a common supply chain, Norris adds the entire development process will also be speeded up. “We have 21 months if selected to get to critical design review,” he notes. Lockheed Martin will provide crew interface systems design, subsystem selection, assembly, integration and mission operations support. ATK adds subsystems could include avionics, GN&C, propulsion systems, environmental control system, docking system and other components.

Astrium North America CEO John Schumacher says the initial second stage will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where it will be integrated with the ATK-made first stage. However, “once the business case develops in the U.S., then we envisage moving manufacture of the Liberty upper stage to the United States.” Although nearly identical to the standard Ariane 5 core, Schumacher says additional structural reinforcement is required for the second stage. Despite this, he adds that no major tooling will be needed to accommodate the Liberty on the line, which can be grown from its current six to seven units per year rate to “easily incorporate three to five more.”

As the Snecma-developed Vulcain 2 is used on the first-stage of the Ariane V, on which it has been used to power 47 consecutive launches, simulated altitude testing will be required to prove its air-starting capability for use in Liberty’s second-stage. Rominger says test sites at NASA Stennis and Glenn are being evaluated. “We are working with both NASA centers to see which will be most appropriate.”

Other Liberty subcontractors now identified include wiring manufacturer Safran/Labinal out of Salisbury, Md., avionics and telemetry provider L-3 Communications Cincinnati Electronics and Moog, which provides thrust vector control and propulsion control.