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Liberty rocket could begin commercial low-orbit space flights by 2016

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An American company is building a rocket that could begin commercial flights to low-orbit space destinations by 2016.

ATK Liberty rocket
ATK Liberty rocket

With demise of NASA's space shuttle program, commercial companies are stepping up to fill the void — and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is hoping to do that with a rocket that will taxi passengers to and from low-orbit destinations like the International Space Station. The new vehicle, called Liberty, is expected to begin a series of test flights in 2014, before it takes part in its first manned mission the next year. Commercial flights could begin as early as 2016, and ATK expects to eventually ferry both NASA crew and "other potential customers."

While getting a ride on the rocket likely won't be cheap, ATK says that its seats should be priced lower than other commercial space crafts, such as Russia's Soyuz rocket. And in addition to delving into the world of space tourism, ATK is also hoping to use the seven-passenger Liberty rocket to help countries that aren't part of the space station program participate in one-off missions. However, it also believes that the ship will have a positive impact on the US' space faring future, as well. "Liberty will enable a successful commercial space program and result in a globally competitive capability that America doesn't have today," explains program manager Kent Rominger.