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ATK unveils proposal it hopes will end NASA's dependence on Russia

Published: Friday, May 11 2012 2:27 p.m. MDT

This image provided by ATK Aerospace Systems shows an ATK Aerospace Systems two-minute test in Utah's west desert Thursday Sept. 8, 2011 that was the third one for this 154-foot, five-stage booster rocket. This rocket booster could launch future space flights for NASA and commercial operators.

ATK Aerospace Systems, Associated Press

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WEST VALLEY CITY — ATK has unveiled a new plan to NASA that the aerospace company hopes will be the next program to put America back in space.

Ever since NASA stopped launching the space shuttle last year, the U.S. 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.

NASA is looking for companies that can launch astronauts to the space station with a  vehicle that will stay at the space station for up to six months and then bring them back to Earth, Rominger said.

ATK previously announced plans to reconfigure the space shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters for use in the proposed Liberty Launch Vehicle. But now it’s rolling out plans for the whole system, including the spacecraft.

"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 it is 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."

If ATK wins the NASA contract, it would mean approximately 300 more jobs for Utah and possibly a lot more later.

At the height of the space shuttle program in the 1990s, 9,000 people worked for ATK in Utah. The company cut more than 800 jobs when the shuttle program started winding down in 2009. Additional cuts were made in 2010 and 2011. More than 2,100 jobs were lost in two years.

"We've gone through a phase of downsizing, which is obviously very painful,” Rominger said. “This would turn that around."

Winning the contract would also mean flying crews into space by late 2015.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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