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PROMONTORY — A Utah company is vying for NASA funding that would help them develop the next generation of human space-launch vehicles.
Early tomorrow, NASA will make a major announcement on the future of the manned space program. If the stars line up for Team Liberty of ATK, $500 million in federal funds will flow almost immediately to the company in northern Utah.
Team Liberty is one of four teams competing for the money, among them, Boeing, Space X and Sierra Nevada. This is ATK's third attempt at the competition, but the team hopes that this time, NASA will fund the development of their Liberty rocket.
"In every realm, I emphasize that I think we have the leading candidate," said ATK Liberty program manager and former astronaut Kent Rominger. "I'm the safest, I have the largest capacity."
The rocket can carry up to seven people, and sustain itself at a space station for 210 days.
The space industry rumor mill predicts NASA will choose two for full funding, another for partial funding and boot out the fourth.
When I look at all the merits of my system, I can't imagine us not being chosen.
–- Kent Rominger, ATK
"When I look at all the merits of my system, I can't imagine us not being chosen," Rominger said. "Having said that, this is the third competition to date and we have never been chosen."
The funding would pay for the next 21 months of design and development. ATK hopes to put a crew in space by 2015. Rominger claims the Liberty rocket is safer than its competitors because it borrows proven concepts from space shuttle rockets and from the manned capsule in the Apollo program.
"I'm leveraging everything that we as taxpayers have developed," Rominger said. "If you total all the billions that have been spent into my system before I started, it's probably approaching $10 billion. So I've got a huge head start."
If ATK doesn't get funding for a third time through NASA tomorrow, the company could proceed using its own money instead of federal funds — something the company has done before. But that would leave the Liberty program on a shakier financial footing.
"In the past year, we've been going on our own internal money," Rominger said. "The other three main competitors we're going up against were funded by NASA."
Those companies have developed well-known technologies like Boeing's CST100, Space X's Dragon, and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser.
If ATK does get the funding, the company could bring in up to 50 more employees.