Image: Ares rocket
NASA
An artist's concept shows the Ares 1 rocket in flight.
updated 12/12/2007 9:18:44 PM ET 2007-12-13T02:18:44

NASA on Wednesday awarded the Boeing Co. a $799.5 million contract to produce an avionics system that will control the Ares 1 rocket, which will be used to send astronauts back to the moon.

The latest deal is the final major contract award for the program that will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle into orbit by 2020. Over the last five months, NASA has awarded nearly $5 billion in contracts for various Ares 1 elements to companies including Boeing; Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.; and Alliant Techsystems Inc.

A year ago, NASA passed over Boeing as well as its strategic partner, Northrop Grumman, to give the $3.9 billion contract for the Orion crew exploration vehicle to a team led by Lockheed Martin. This time, Boeing beat out Ball Aerospace, a unit of Broomfield, Colo.-based Ball Corp. for the avionics deal.

The avionics are considered the "brains" of the Ares 1 rocket and will provide guidance, navigation and control for the rocket until it reaches orbit. The system is also responsible for managing vehicle health and reporting engine shutdown and first-stage separation to flight controllers.

The company will develop and acquire the avionics hardware for the rocket, as well as assemble, inspect and integrate the system's components on the upper stage of the rocket. The parts will be manufactured by Boeing suppliers across the country.

Boeing said it expects to hire up to 100 technical personnel to support NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Final integration and checkout will take place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.

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