Two aerospace giants, the Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., said Tuesday they will form a partnership to compete for the contract to build NASA’s next manned spaceship.
NASA will award two development contracts next year, potentially worth billions of dollars, for the spacecraft that will replace the space shuttle for carrying astronauts to and from space.
One of those two contractors will then be chosen in 2008 to build and test the Crew Exploration Vehicle, a cornerstone of the plan President Bush announced in January to build settlements on the moon.
The Northrop and Boeing pairing reduces the competition for those contracts, with only one other major player, Lockheed Martin Corp., left in the field.
The biggest surprise in the announcement was that Boeing would take a back seat to Northrop in the first phase of development, with Northrop serving as prime contractor and Boeing a subcontractor.
By virtue of its acquisitions, Boeing has more experience building piloted spaceships than any other company, having developed the Apollo and shuttle spacecrafts and much of the U.S. portion of the International Space Station.
Boeing’s focus on returning the space shuttle to flight and completing construction of the space station was the driver in the company’s decision to hand the reins to Northrop, Chuck Allen, Boeing’s vice president for space exploration systems, told reporters in a teleconference.
NASA’s shuttle fleet has been grounded since the February 2003 disintegration of Columbia over Texas, which killed all seven astronauts on board.
“We could not detract from our ability to execute those ongoing, very, very important programs,” Allen said.
Allen said such partnerships are likely to be key in developing the vast network of spaceflight hardware needed for NASA’s mission, which could include lunar landers, moon habitats and fueling depots between Earth and moon.
“It’s going to take a whole lot more capability than resides in any one corporate or government entity. We are truly all going to have to work together to create a system integration capability which far exceeds anything anybody has ever tried to do,” he said.