ATK’s new vehicle to provide multi-access options

by Chris Bergin

ATK have officially unveiled their new vehicle, which is targeted at a near-term solution for their COTS partner PlanetSpace, as well as satellite and planetary markets.

Unnamed, but known in the industry as Athena III, the three stage vehicle is based on a 2.5 segment Solid Rocket Booster, with an ATK Castor 120 second stage, topped off with an ATK Castor 30 third stage and Orbit Adjust Module (OAM).

**NASA memos on COTS latest, plus the impressive – yet unreleased – K-1 COTS Operations Video – are available to download on L2 **



The performance capability for the initial vehicle is nearly 25 percent greater than the heavy version of the Delta II, for GTO missions, and almost 40 percent better for TLI missions.

In addition, an upgraded vehicle would provide an additional 1,560 lbs of payload capability for International Space Station (ISS) missions, by incorporating composite case and solid propellant upgrades – which ATK believe could prove to be a useful test bed for potential Ares I and Ares V upgrades.

‘An attractive feature of the vehicle stems from our pre-planned composite case and propellent upgrades to the RSRM derivative,’ said Joel Crook Program Director, Advanced Programs at ATK. ‘For the two-and-a-half segment version we’re planning they would provide an additional payload capacity of 1,500 pounds for an ISS mission.

‘In addition, those launches could serve as a flying test bed for potential Ares I and Ares V booster upgrades. ATK has experience with composite cases with several of our current commercial propulsion products.’

ATK note the vehicle is capable of the following payload capability: International Space Station (ISS) – 13,233 lbs/14,795 lb. Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) – 6,160 lbs. Trans-Lunar Insertion (TLI) – 4,147 lbs. Mars Science Mission – 2,992 lbs.

However, the immediate concentration is on bringing the new launch vehicle on line for their COTS partnership with PlanetSpace and Lockheed Martin, with an aim to achieve its first flight by late 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

ATK hope to create 350 jobs in the region – which will be heavily hit by the retirement of the shuttle at the end of the decade.

ATK, currently in partnership with the Chicago-based PlanetSpace, announced their position for the bidding of the $175m COTS contract last year, and now find themselves as one of eight finalists – that will officially become four after ‘oral’ meetings in Houston at the end of the month – after the competition was re-issued due to issues with a previous finalist, RpK.

COTS is required for ISS access once the shuttle retires in around 2010. The US will be without domestic access via NASA systems for five years, as per current timelines with the development of Ares I and Orion.

Looking to the future, ATK believe they can utilize their new vehicle in a multi-option marketplace, post Delta II retirement. However, they will face stern competition from Orbital’s soon-to-be-announced Taurus II – which is believed to have the bulk of NASA and industry support.

Regardless, ATK remain buoyant they can achieve viability in a tight marketplace via derivatives of their ‘Athena III’ – claiming they already have three letters of intent from customers.

‘A big advantage of the design is that it’s modular in nature,’ added Crook. ‘We can fly the entire vehicle for a COTS-class mission, or we can fly a smaller payload by flying all but the RSRM (Reusable Solid Rocket Motor) first stage.

‘In fact, we already have three letters of intent from different customers for the small launch vehicle. We plan to fly the first small launch vehicle in September 2009, and launch our COTS demonstration vehicle in December 2010.’

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