Ares I could live on by joining with Ariane

A new rocket, named Liberty, would be much cheaper than the Ares I, because the unfinished NASA-designed upper stage of the Ares I would be replaced with the first stage of the Ariane 5, which has been launched successfully 41 consecutive times. The lower stage of the Liberty, a longer version of the shuttle booster built by ATK, would be almost unchanged from the Ares I.

ATK hopes the Liberty can take business away from the United Launch Alliance with a greater lift capability (44,500 pounds to low-Earth orbit) at a cost (less than $180 million) it says is lower than that of the Atlas V.

ATK is seeking part of $200 million that NASA will distribute next month for commercial crew efforts. The Liberty’s first test launching could take place in 2013, and it could be ready to carry astronauts two years later.

ATK and Astrium also hope the rocket can compete for future contracts for space station cargo. With an eventual four to six launchings a year, the Liberty could also help reduce the cost of the heavy-lift rocket that NASA is to develop for deep-space missions. The current design of the heavy-lift calls for the same solid rocket motors as the Liberty.

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