Aerospace and defense products supplier Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) is teaming up with European aerospace group EADS unit Astrium to develop a new low-cost space rocket launch vehicle that could take tourists into orbit.

ATK and Astrium are working together in response to NASA's Commercial Crew Development-2 (CCDev-2) procurement and is offering NASA launch services with the Liberty rocket.

ATK said it would supply the human-rated first stage that it developed under NASA's Space Exploration Program. The five-segment solid rocket first stage (bottom part of the rocket) is derived from the space shuttle's four-segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs) which are built by ATK and have flown 107 successful missions since 1988 (encompassing 214 SRBs). SRBs help get the shuttle off the ground.

Astrium, working with Europe's leading propulsion company Snecma (Safran Group), is providing Liberty's second stage (top half of the rocket) based on the liquid-fueled cryogenic core of the Ariane 5 vehicle powered by the Vulcain2 engine.

The Ariane 5 Launcher, operated by Arianespace, has flown more than 40 consecutive successful missions over nearly 8 years and has launched more commercial satellites than any other launch vehicle in the world during that time. The Ariane 5 enjoys the lowest launch insurance rates in the industry on an unrivaled safety record in the commercial launch services market.

This team represents the true sense of international partnership in that we looked across borders to find the best for our customers. Together we combine unique flight-proven systems and commercial experience that allows us to offer the market's most capable launch vehicle along with flexibility to meet a wide variety of emerging needs. Liberty provides greater performance at less cost than any other comparable launch vehicle, said Blake Larson, President of ATK Aerospace Systems Group.

Liberty would be a two stage launcher able to deliver 44,500 pounds to the International Space Station orbit that would give it a launch capability to carry any crew vehicle in development. Both stages were designed for human-rating since inception and would enable unmatched crew safety.

ATK and Astrium has planned an initial flight for the 90m-high (300-feet) Liberty rocket by the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2014, and operational capability in 2015.

The Liberty launch system is built on a solid foundation of human-rated launch technology, and leverages billions of dollars of investments by NASA and NATO-allied European Governments in the frame of the European Space Agency.

This international effort -- which embodies the spirit of global cooperation articulated in the recent National Space Policy -- will afford NASA a readily available, cost-effective solution for human spaceflight.

The five-segment first stage design is based on more than 30 years of safety-driven improvements on the space shuttle program. The result is a higher performing, more reliable solid rocket motor that equates to increased safety for crew and mission success for cargo.

Apart from adding a fifth segment, ATK also enhanced the propellant grain, provided a larger nozzle opening, and upgraded the liner and insulation -- all designed to meet performance requirements and higher reliability while significantly reducing manufacturing costs.

The five-segment first stage was successfully ground tested twice (September 2009 and August 2010), and the successful Ares I-X flight test in October 2009 demonstrated vehicle proof of concept, and vital flight performance of a launch vehicle configuration very comparable to Liberty. It also demonstrated effective vehicle integration, ground processing and launch operations.

Other Liberty rocket team members include: United Space Alliance (USA) of Houston, Texas and Kennedy Space Center, Fla. for launch vehicle integration and ground operations support, and L-3 Communications of Cincinnati, Ohio for first stage avionics.