Aug 29 2007

Boeing launches winning Ares I bid Decatur plant to play role in journey back to moon

Decatur Daily

By Eric Fleischauer

Decatur's United Launch Alliance will play a role in sending astronauts to the International Space Station and to the moon.

Boeing Co. on Tuesday won a NASA contract to build the upper stage for the Ares I rocket. It named ULA as a subcontractor. ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., is the main production facility for Delta II and Delta IV satellite-launch rockets.

"Boeing is interested in making use of our manufacturing expertise, resident at the Decatur production facility," ULA's Denver-based spokeswoman, Julie Andrews, said Tuesday after NASA's announcement.

Andrews said ULA does not know the specifics of how the contract will affect it.

"We congratulate the Boeing Co. on being selected, and we stand ready to support them. We would expect to provide them with expertise resident in our Delta IV launch vehicle manufacturing," Andrews said. "At this point, we can't be more specific than that because we don't have clear direction from Boeing on what they will require from ULA."

Marshall playing lead role

Boeing will support a NASA-led design team based at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

"This award should mean an even greater role for North Alabama in NASA's journey back to the moon and beyond," said U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville.

Boeing will manufacture a ground-test model, three flight-test units and six production-flight units to support NASA's flight schedule through 2016.

The estimated contract value for the Boeing team is $514.7 million. Numerous teams bid for the contract.

Ares I is an in-line, two-stage rocket that will carry Orion, a crew exploration vehicle, to low-Earth orbit. Orion is slated to replace the space shuttle as NASA's primary vehicle for human exploration in the next decade.

The Ares I upper stage will provide the navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the second stage of the rocket's ascent.

Final assembly of the upper stage will take place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

The Ares I first stage will consist of a five-segment solid rocket booster and motor similar to those used on the space shuttle, NASA officials said. The upper stage will consist of a J-2X main engine, a fuel tank for liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, and associated avionics.

Boeing, in a statement, said it "will employ up to several hundred technical support personnel" at Marshall to fulfill the contract. ULA had no estimate on how it would affect employment at the Decatur plant.

"I know that Boeing's collaboration with Marshall Space Flight Center and their exemplary industry partners in North Alabama will allow the Ares I team to create an upper stage that will be both safe and effective," said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa. "This announcement is proof of the quality of the aerospace work force in North Alabama."