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Utah's ATK intends to lead in space travel


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WEST VALLEY CITY — A new plan unveiled by ATK, the company that built the Space Shuttle engines in Utah, promises to be a shot in the arm for the economy and a shot at a major role in the space program. They're hoping to be our country's next ticket into space. Or maybe they'll sell the tickets.

Recapturing the glory of the manned space program, with Utah playing the central role, is ATK's dream. They're asking, in effect, "Instead of the Russians, why not us?"

Ever since NASA stopped launching the space shuttle last year, the US has been in what some would say is an embarrassing national position.

"Now, the only way we can get to our space station is launching out of Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz rocket," said Kent Rominger, ATK Vice President for the Liberty Launch Vehicle, via Skype from Los Angeles, where he unveiled the new design ATK is pitching to NASA.

"They're looking for folks that can launch their astronauts to the space station, with a system, a vehicle, that will stay at the space station for 6 months' stay and then bring them back home," he said.

ATK previously announced plans to reconfigure the space shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters for use in the proposed Liberty Launch Vehicle. But now they're rolling out plans for the whole thing, including the spacecraft on top.

"It's the most capable capsule offered ever. It holds seven people," Rominger said. ATK would be the prime contractor in a group of companies that would build the Liberty Launch Vehicle, top to bottom.

"The entire vehicle will be managed and run from the prime in Utah, he said.

The team still needs a customer, which could be NASA, and they're competing with several other proposals. A decision is expected in August.

"I have no idea how those selections are going to come out but I can tell you I'm very, very confident in our system, Rominger said. "NASA is one of the customers. We also want to carry cargo to the space station. We want to offer rides to other nations."

You never know. Maybe the Russians will need a ride someday. If ATK wins the NASA contract, they hope to be flying crews into space by 2015. That would mean something like 300 more jobs for Utah, and possibly a lot more later.

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John Hollenhorst

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