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Minn. Company Announces Space Taxi Partnership

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota company has joined the race to space — and a race for $200 million.

ATK of Eden Prairie is the company behind the Liberty Launch Vehicle, a rocket designed to send astronauts to the international space station. And if their rocket wins a NASA competition, the $200 million in seed money will just be the start.

Nestled between apartments and office buildings, ATK doesn’t look like a space-age company. But looks can be deceiving.

On Tuesday, the Eden Prairie company announced it’s jumping into a $200 million NASA competition, pairing with a French company to make the rocket that sends the next kind of shuttle to the international space station.

“This is proven solid rocket motor technology. This same technology that ATK makes is serving as the first stage to get the liberty launch vehicle off the ground,” spokesperson Brian Grace said.

ATK is best known for making the solid rocket boosters that got the old shuttle off the ground.

They’re best known around the Twin Cities as Alliant Tech Systems, which spun off from Honeywell many years ago.

“We’re the experts in it. We’ve been providing solid rocket motors to NASA for the last 30 years,” Grace said.

The new design is more like old-fashioned rockets, with a passenger capsule on top.

“It’s back to the future, and it’s safer that way, too. The astronauts are safer on top,” Grace said.

Four or five other companies will compete for NASA’s seed money. But unlike other space missions, these will still be privately owned rockets.

“So NASA needs rides to the international space station, they contact the company, they sign up for ‘X’ number of launches, and we provide those rides,” he said.

ATK could charge as much as $180 million per launch, but split among seven astronauts, that’s $26 million apiece, much less than $52 million per person to use a Russian rocket until then.

Although it has its headquarters and 3,000 employees in Minnesota, its space program is actually located in Utah.

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