Three Contractors To Vie For New Space Booster
KENT, Wash. (AP) _ Three defense contractors are about to embark on a two-year, high-stakes competition to develop an unmanned space rocket for the Air Force, industry officials say.
″Whoever wins this business is certainly going to be at the forefront of the U.S. launch business for a long time to come,″ said Vince Caluori, Boeing Aerospace’s manager here for the program the Air Force calls the Advanced Launch System.
Initial development contracts will be awarded ″any day now″ to Boeing, Martin Marietta Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., Air Force spokesman Capt. Marty Hauser said earlier this week.
He would not confirm reports that each contract could be for $80 million.
The Air Force wants a lightweight family of launch vehicles that can slash the cost of putting payloads in space. Under the development contracts, each company will have 25 months to submit plans to build a system that will meet the Air Force requirement of lifting up to 160,000 pounds of payload to an equatorial or polar orbit.
The winner of the development competition can expect billions of dollars in business in the 1990s, as the Air Force moves toward a first launch of the ALS late in that decade.
″What ALS represents to us is really the whole next generation of launch vehicles,″ said Jeff Fisher, spokesman for Martin Marietta’s Denver-based astronautics group. ″To stay in this business in the long term, ALS is critical.″
The Martin Marietta division, teamed with McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. for the competition, developed much of the Titan launch system for civilian and military satellites, a business that has generated more than $4 billion.
Also hungry for the work is General Dynamics Space Systems Division of San Diego, which developed the upper-stage rockets for Titan, and the Atlas missile systems.
″It’s a very, very significant program,″ said General Dynamics spokesman Jack Isabel. ″It’s comparable to when the space shuttle got under way.″
Boeing worked on the Saturn rocket booster for the Apollo manned space missions, Minuteman missiles, and the upper-stage booster for satellites launched from the space shuttle. Still, it’s been 15 years since the Saturn program ended, a long time to be out of the space rocket business.
″Both our competitors have to be viewed as incumbents,″ Caluori said. ″We think it’s going to be one of the toughest competitions down the road that we’ve been involved in.″
Boeing so far has released one possible design, featuring a winged vehicle and booster rocket launched with six liquid-propellant engines. The vehicle would use four aircraft engines to land back on earth.
General Dynamics’ initial design calls for an all-liquid hydrogen and oxygen powered vehicle and booster rocket without wings. Martin Marietta has released three designs, including all-expendable and partly recoverable versions.
The Air Force’s goal is to make rocket launches as predictable as airplane flight, Caluori said.
The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and other payload-launching setbacks have left the United States with a large backlog of satellites waiting to be put into orbit. As a result, some companies have turned to foreign launchers such as Europe’s Ariane system.