WASHINGTON — Alliant Tech Systems, the Salt Lake City-based contractor that is increasingly looking for ways to expand beyond its well-known core business building space shuttle solid-rocket boosters, announced Nov. 8 that it has joined the Rocketp lane Kistler team developing a space station resupply vehicle.
Rocketp lane Kistler was one of two companies selected in August to receive financial assistance under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, a NASA effort to develop and demonstrate a launch system capable of delivering supplies and possibly even astronauts to the international space station.
“We look forward to helping [Rocketplane Kistler] develop this new launch capability,” said ATK Launch Systems Group President Ron Dittemore.
Dittemore said ATK will oversee the development, assembly, integration and testing of the K-1 reusable rocket and construction of its Woomera, Australia, launch site. ATK also will support Seattle-based Andrews Space in its development of the K-1 crew and cargo module, lending its expertise in composite structures.
ATK held a simil ar supporting role on Andrews COTS team, which was a finalist for NASA funding but did not make the final cut.
Dittemore said ATK also has agreed to make an initial cash investment of $2.5 million in Rocketplane Kistler to help finance the restart of the K-1 program. Additional investments in the form of goods and services would follow, Dittemore said .
ATK’s addition to the Rocketplane Kistler team largely displaces Italy’s Alenia Spazio, at least in the near term. Rocketplane Kistler President Randy Brinkley said ATK will be doing the structures work originally envisioned for Alenia. He said, however, that R ocketplane Kistler remains interested in working with Alenia on some longer-term objectives, such as developing a life support system for a K-1 crew module and an active payload dispenser for a version of the K-1 that would be optimized to launch satellites.
Brinkley said Rocketplane Kistler still intends to assemble the K-1 at Lockheed Martin’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, although that work also will fall under ATK’s supervision. Michoud currently manufactures external tanks for the space shuttle and is expected to play a major role in the production of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket.
ATK was selected by NASA in December 2005 to help design and build the Ares 1 main stage, essentially a larger version of the solid-rocket boosters the company builds for the space shuttle. In September, ATK announced it was joining with Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to compete for a contract to help NASA design and build a cryogenic upper stage for the Ares 1.
Dittemore said joining Rocketplane Kistler’s COTS team would not distract ATK from its shuttle or Ares work. He said ATK’s work on the K-1 would be led by the company’s Advanced Programs Group under former NASA astronaut Kent Romminger, not the Space Launch Systems Group under Michael Kahn.
ATK fills a vacancy in Rocketplane Kistler’s COTS team roster that has been open since Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences pulled out of the project in September over disagreements about the design and business plan for the K-1 reusable rocket.
While ATK’s initial cash investment is less than the $10 million Orbital Sciences had pledged to bring to the table, Brinkley said Rocketplane Kistler has exceeded its first round financing goals by 10 percent, raising over $45 million since NASA awarded the company $207 million in September under the COTS program.
Brinkley has said Rocketplane Kistler intends to match NASA’s contribution two-for-one with private investment to complete development of the K-1 and conduct by 2010 the COTS demonstrations that would put the company in the running for eventual space station re supply contracts.