ATK Loses Out on NASA Space Vehicle Money

NASA reportedly favored spacecraft designers over rocket builders like ATK when determining which firms would receive a portion of almost $270 million in federal funds supporting the development of commercial space vehicles.

Eden Prairie-based Alliant Techsystems, Inc. (ATK), was reportedly unsuccessful in its bid for government money for the development of commercial space vehicles.

According to online space news site Spaceflight Now, NASA favored spacecraft designers over rocket builders when determining which firms would receive a portion of almost $270 million in federal funds-which ultimately went to out-of-state companies Boeing ($92.3 million), Sierra Nevada Corporation ($80 million), SpaceX ($75 million), and Blue Origin ($22 million).

Rocket manufacturers-including ATK and Centennial, Colorado-based United Launch Alliance, LLC, both of which submitted proposals in an attempt to capture funding-were absent from the awards.

In its proposal, ATK submitted a rocket named Liberty. The aerospace and defense company had been working with France-based space systems provider Astrium on a two-stage launch vehicle that would combine two propulsion systems. ATK previously said that the rocket would be able to carry a crew and deliver 44,500 pounds to the International Space Station.

ATK planned to produce the first stage of the rocket at its facility in Promontory, Utah. Astrium would then provide the second stage, and ATK would do the final assembly at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

ATK and Astrium had planned an initial test flight by the end of 2013 and a second test flight in 2014-and they planned to have operational capability in 2015.

The space shuttle's last flight will be later this year. The United States will pay Russia $52 million per passenger to transport crews to the International Space Station until a replacement becomes available. The recently awarded federal grants aim to facilitate the process of finding a replacement.

Despite ATK's recent setback, it announced Monday that it won a $57 million contract to provide an upgraded, second-stage motor for Orbital Science Corporation's Taurus II commercial launch vehicle-which will supply cargo for NASA to the International Space Station.

ATK employs about 18,000 people and is among Minnesota's 20-largest public companies based on revenue, which totaled $4.8 billion for the fiscal year that ended in March 2010. Financial figures for the fiscal year that ended in March 2011 have not yet been released.

To read more about the bids and awards for commercial space vehicle federal funding on Spaceflight Now's Web site, click here.