Dragon and Liberty
This morning, after many delays, SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifted off for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. As this blog reported back in February '009, SpaceX Aims High, this docking was originally planned for May-November 2010. The 18-24 month delay is partially due to NASA and Russia's stringent requirements for docking with ISS. SpaceX claims that they can turn Falcon 9/Dragon into a human-rated system in 3 years. We wish them Godspeed and a successful flight, but rocket science is full of delays. Meanwhile, with less of a media spotlight, ATK is forging ahead with their Liberty booster. Outwardly similar to the cancelled Ares I, Liberty has for a first stage the 5-segment solid rocket booster developed for Ares I and the more recent Space Launch System. The crew capsule will be built from modern composite materials, based on an all-composite design built and rejected for Orion. Unlike SpaceX, ATK is building a complete system without any more government funding. They are using an unfunded Space Act agreement, and funds already spent by NASA for Ares I. ATK claims that this system could be flying crew into orbit by 2015, potentially beating SpaceX. We also wish them and the other competitors every success.