London: Two of the world``s leading rocket companies-ATK from the US and Astrium from Europe-are collaborating to develop a new vehicle that may one day launch astronauts into orbit.
The space launcher dubbed Liberty would be based on the solid-fuelled boosters that help get the shuttle off the ground. However, the top half would use the liquid-fuelled core-stage technology.
The 90m-high (300ft) Liberty rocket is likely to fly by 2013, and operational with astronauts on board by 2015.
"This team represents the true sense of international partnership in that we looked across borders to find the best for our customers," the BBC quoted Blake Larson, the president of ATK Aerospace Systems Group, as saying.
"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," he said.
Silvio Sandrone, Astrium``s of launcher sales and business development, said, "It``s a very cool idea; it``s got the potential to be a fast development, building on existing experience and existing teams. Certainly it would be cheaper and faster than starting from scratch."
ATK and Astrium said Liberty``s ability to put about 20 tonnes in low-Earth orbit, the altitude occupied by the International Space Station, means it could loft any of the astronaut capsules currently in development.
Liberty would use a first-stage that incorporated a larger, five-segment booster - a technology ATK has already been testing.