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Aerospace Merger: ATK Joins With Orbital Sciences Corp

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the drumming-up-competition-for-spacex dept.

Businesses 22

FullBandwidth writes: "Two Virginia aerospace players, Arlington-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, are merging to create a $5 billion venture. The companies announced the merger in a joint announcement Tuesday. ATK is also spinning off its lucrative hunting gear segment into a separate company. 'The move is mutually beneficial, company executives said, as ATK looks to bolster its aerospace business and Orbital Sciences hopes to boost the scale of its existing operations as well as gain a foothold in the defense sector. ... Another beneficiary of the merger is NASA, a client of both companies. Last year, Orbital successfully completed a supply run to the international space station using its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. Orbital’s expansion after the merger will make it a bigger player in the commercial space sector as it competes with the likes of SpaceX, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company, said Howard Rubel, an equity research analyst at Jefferies.'"

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ATK (2)

Guppy (12314) | about 3 months ago | (#46875145)

FYI: ATK Launch Systems (formerly known as Thiokol) was the prime contractor for the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster [wikipedia.org] , and as far as I know they mostly do solid-type rocket boosters -- which is what they are proposing for the (maybe [wikipedia.org] ) upcoming Space Launch System.

Re:ATK (0)

strack (1051390) | about 3 months ago | (#46875195)

ATK needs to stick to missiles and stop fucking up human spaceflight with its dangerous and uncontrollable firecrackers.

Re:ATK (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46875239)

ATK needs to stick to missiles and stop fucking up human spaceflight with its dangerous and uncontrollable firecrackers.

I worked in engineering at Kennedy Space Center when the Challenger disaster occurred. I was
on site that day.

Thikol engineers actually cautioned against the launch of the shuttle due to the unusually cold ambient temperature
at the launch site.

It was NASA which made the final decision to launch, and the decision was made against the recommendations of
some NASA staff as well as engineers from Thikol. So the fault for the events which followed the launch
really lies with the NASA decision-makers who chose to take a risk using equipment in temperatures for
which that equipment was not designed. So it is unfair to malign Thiokol when the disaster would not have
happened if NASA had listened to Thiokol.

Re:ATK (2)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 months ago | (#46875599)

Thikol engineers actually cautioned against the launch of the shuttle due to the unusually cold ambient temperature at the launch site.

That doesn't excuse the design flaws inherent in the shuttle system. Solid rockets cannot be shut down or controlled. Once they're lit, they're lit. In the event of a catastrophe, the only way to control a solid rocket is to "unzip" it, explosive charges run the entire length of the rocket and spew it's flaming guts all over the place. The only safe place to be is in front of a solid, but even that isn't safe. When the Jupiter Direct launch system was being designed, the engineers discovered that the expanding fireball made of chunks of flaming solid fuel followed the same trajectory as the manned capsule would have, and would have melted or burned the parachutes on the capsule. On the shuttle, unzipping the SRBs would have burned into the external tank, and we all know what happens then.

Re:ATK (1)

Megane (129182) | about 3 months ago | (#46877147)

The real design flaw was putting the crew vehicle to the side of the SRBs with no escape rocket mechanism. All this came about because of the military side of the requirements for Shuttle, which were important so that it could have enough "customers" to make it worth the trouble of building such an elephant. But now they have the X37B for their black ops, and nobody with a clue wants the Shuttle design back.

Re:ATK (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 months ago | (#46881245)

I was watching a video [youtube.com] of a shuttle launch last night, and I was thinking, from the time of ignition to the point where the shuttle was moving fast enough to generate lift, there is no way to safely abort. Then, as the video progressed, it mentioned that the shuttle had to wait until the SRBs had jettisoned before it could perform the RTLS (Return to Launch Site) abort. The earliest abort opportunity was two and a half minutes after ignition of the SRBs. Two and a half minutes! No pad abort. No ejection seats. No crew escape module. Nothing. It's amazing that the design was ever allowed to be built and a testament to the engineering teams and assemblers that there was only one launch catastrophe.

Re:ATK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46879507)

To be fair, in most cases, one can't just shut off a liquid rocket either.. Shutting an engine down prematurely is not without it's own set of high-stakes risks, and this is a major misconception that somehow one can just shut down these low altitude boosters, most which are designed not to ever be shut down until they are nearly spent of fuel... Can one shut down a liquid booster? Technically speaking one could.. Should one? In most cases, the answer is clearly no.. In fact, my guess is the emergency response process would be very similar if the boosters were liquid; Blow the bolts, steer away the main unit and burn the boosters until they either explode in the air or until they run out of fuel, to minimize ground damage on reentry..

The safety of one propellant and rocket design over another varies depending on its application, so one could be safer than the other, but in practice, both types of boosters have their pros and cons, which is why both designs are still in use today.

Care to listen to someone who was there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46879591)

Thiokol engineers actually cautioned against the launch of the shuttle due to the unusually cold ambient temperature at the launch site.

That doesn't excuse the design flaws inherent in the shuttle system.

Thiokol (ATK) did not design the shuttle system, they were subcontractors who delivered a part to spec. They were not permitted to redesign the system to use technologies other than o-ring gasketed steel segmented casing and solid fuel.

Solid rockets cannot be shut down or controlled.

Wrong. Perhaps you should study what the state of the art was at the time of the Challenger disaster rather than basing your ideas on bottle rockets.

Once they're lit, they're lit.

Wrong. Propellants can be designed that will not burn unless the pressure of the containment vessel is within specific parameters. You could block the nozzle to raise the pressure or open a vent to lower it and the propellant stops burning (not as fast as a liquid fuel cutoff, but fast enough).

In the event of a catastrophe, the only way to control a solid rocket is to "unzip" it, explosive charges run the entire length of the rocket and spew it's flaming guts all over the place.

Wrong. That is one way; others exist including blowing the nozzle off and (the most obvious one) simply detaching the boosters and letting them fly off on their own, detonating them at a safe distance later or simply letting them drop into the sea.

The only safe place to be is in front of a solid, but even that isn't safe.

If you think there is a "safe" way to get to orbit in a rocket, regardless of solid or liquid, you're kidding yourself. There isn't even a "safe" way to drive to work in the morning - people die every day on the highways. If you want "safe" you need to go with a vastly different vehicle that uses standard airplane-type flight to get to the upper atmosphere.

When the Jupiter Direct launch system was being designed, the engineers discovered that the expanding fireball made of chunks of flaming solid fuel followed the same trajectory as the manned capsule would have, and would have melted or burned the parachutes on the capsule.

Jupiter? C'mon. Let's stay in the real world of the actual Challenger disaster, not in proposals made decades later. We knew the behavior of burning material moving in a ballistic trajectory in the 1500s anyway.

On the shuttle, unzipping the SRBs would have burned into the external tank, and we all know what happens then.

Yeah, that's why the earlier portion of your rant, where you claim that only unzipping is feasible, makes no sense. Controlled demolition is theoretically possible, of course, that would direct debris ejection at ninety degrees to the payload, but you've already dismissed that.

You seem to want to excoriate Thiokol/ATK for Challenger. OK, fine, there's blame to spread around, but please learn some rocket science first.

Here's some history for you: We wanted to do carbon-fiber case-on-propellant technology with no O-rings and restartable solid fuels. NASA wouldn't let us. They insisted on "proven" technology that had known shortcomings, and then they refused to listen to our warnings about those shortcomings, because they didn't want to mess up the President's pre-written speech schedule. In the end, though, Reagan had to have a new speech written in a hurry, so he plagiarized High Flight [skygod.com] to lasting acclaim.

Re:Care to listen to someone who was there? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 months ago | (#46883561)

You seem to want to excoriate Thiokol/ATK for Challenger.

No. Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Thiokol/ATK did their due diligence in warning NASA that it was too cold. Also, I'm glad to hear that there were proposals to do a (seamless?) carbon fiber booster. My issue is with the design of the shuttle system as a whole. It would never get man-rated today.

Re:ATK (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 3 months ago | (#46877049)

Thikol engineers actually cautioned against the launch of the shuttle due to the unusually cold ambient temperature at the launch site.

It was in the documentation, also. NASA had everything on paper that they needed to know that it was an unsafe opportunity for launch. They took it anyway.

ATK solids are reliable when used properly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46875633)

When used under conditions recommended by ATK, the shuttle SRBs failed 0 out ~260 times. ATK's solids have not failed on the EELV launches either. So, ATK can make reliable solid motors.

Re:ATK (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 3 months ago | (#46877525)

As a shooter, I'd more appreciate it if they could magically build yet another ammo plant and crank out more 22 ammo...

(ATK owns both Federal and CCI)

Re:ATK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46875757)

aka; former Sen. Orrin Hatch's cookie-jar.

Re:ATK (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 months ago | (#46876175)

aka; former Sen. Orrin Hatch's cookie-jar.

Former? I know some people like to think he has been serving since 1776, but that zombie is still in office. He rules Utah politics as his own private fiefdom almost on the level like Huey Long did for Louisiana.

Yeah, ATK is one of his major cookie jars though, and Thiokol was previously his sugar daddy.

Beneficiary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46875397)

Less competitors, more profits.

Awesome (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46875507)

ATK has some of the best all-natural hairy women porn out there, glad to see them succeed in other endeavors!

Pretty reasonable merger (2)

Teancum (67324) | about 3 months ago | (#46876237)

1st of all, neither one of these companies is what would be called a major player in the space launch industry, even though both do get involved at a significant level. I would dare say both companies had a foot in the grave and could disappear if this merger didn't happen.

Also, neither company seems to be in direct competition with each other in terms of the various parts of the space launch areas that they have concentrated on. ATK is more into military sales (especially missiles and military munitions in general) and of course the solid rocket boosters, including the SRBs that the Space Shuttle used. Orbital has experience with liquid fueled rockets and working with commercial spaceflight customers in particular, including satellite construction (their main profit area). ATK has been losing its military business for some time, so they are in desperate need to change course and especially get into the commercial spaceflight area... something that obviously Orbital has a lot of experience in working with.

While this merger still shocks me that it is happening, I see huge benefits for both Orbital and ATK if this is completed. The combined company will definitely be in a position to challenge SpaceX in a number of ways and can definitely blow out of the water anything produced by United Launch Alliance (ULA). ATK has the raw capital and some substantial physical assets that could definitely build upon everything Orbital has been doing.

Re:Pretty reasonable merger (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 3 months ago | (#46877145)

Subject: Pretty reasonable merger [...] While this merger still shocks me that it is happening

Which is it? Is it reasonable, or are you shocked? (Shocked, I tell you!)

Re:Pretty reasonable merger (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#46877611)

It can be both. It'd be reasonable for politicians from all parties to work together harmoniously to enrich the lives of all their countrymen, and ensure peace, justice, and unlimited rice pudding for all, but I'd be shocked if it happened.

Re:Pretty reasonable merger (1)

Megane (129182) | about 3 months ago | (#46877163)

tl;dr: it sounds like a good match, which is what I think, too.

It can still work (1)

Isca (550291) | about 3 months ago | (#46876805)

Solid rockets ala the shuttle still have their place -- with heavy lifting of cargo into space. They are relatively cheap and can be reused. However if SpaceX is able to succeed in returning their rockets to the pad and is able to scale that ability up to it's heavy lifting proposals nothing this orbital-ATK company has proposed will come close to SpaceX's price.

Radomes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46879027)

What about the Radome business?

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