NASA will work with developers of a proposed new commercial rocket, made in part from its now defunct Ares 1 crew launcher, which could eventually move crews and supplies to the International Space Station, officials said on Tuesday.
The rocket also would include the core stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 booster
The agreement with Alliant Techsystems Inc and its European partner Astrium, an EADS company, is for technical support services from NASA, not money. Alliant intends to eventually offer its Liberty rocket for sale to fly crews to the space station.
The rocket also will be sold for satellite launches and station cargo resupply missions, said Kent Rominger, a former astronaut who now manages the Liberty Launch System program for Alliant.
“We are absolutely looking at all the markets for Liberty,” he said.
The rocket consists of a space shuttle-derived solid fuel booster, originally called Ares 1, developed under NASA’s now-canceled Constellation moon exploration program.
Alliant competed for NASA funding to develop the commercial version of its Ares 1, renamed Liberty and featuring an upper-stage motor provided by Astrium. Both rockets have long and successful histories of space flight, which Rominger says gives Liberty a leg up in price and safety over competing systems.
The U.S. space agency, however, instead chose to award contracts worth a total of $269 million to Boeing Co, Space Exploration Technologies, Sierra Nevada Corp, and Blue Origin to work on spaceship technologies, not launch vehicles.
NASA’s evaluation of the Liberty rocket is expected to last about nine months.
The rocket is designed to carry about 44,000 pounds (19,958 kg) to an orbit a few hundred miles (km) above Earth, such as where the space station flies. NASA hopes to turn over crew ferry flights to a commercial provider by about 2015.
The Obama administration is seeking to help industry develop space taxis that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station, a service now solely provided by Russia at a cost of more than $50 million per person.
The Obama administration is proposing to spend $850 million on commercial crew initiatives for the year beginning October 1.