August 29, 2007 Boeing has been awarded a lucrative contract worth more than $500 million to create part of a new NASA crew launch vehicle for Ares I, the rocket set to succeed the space shuttle as NASA’s primary vehicle for human exploration in the next decade. Boeing Space Exploration will manufacture a key element which will provide navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the ascent of the second-stage Ares I rocket into low-Earth orbit.
The goal for the Ares I rocket, named after the Greek God of war, is to return humans to the moon and later take them to Mars and other destinations. It is being promoted by NASA as a safe, reliable, cost-effective space transportation system. The rocket is an in-line, two-stage configuration topped by the Orion crew vehicle and its launch abort system.
In addition to carrying crews of four to six astronauts to Earth orbit, Ares I will also be able to use its 25-ton payload capacity to deliver resources and supplies to the International Space Station, or to leave payloads in orbit for retrieval by other spacecraft.
The Ares I upper stage, with an engine and an avionics unit procured separately, will provide the navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the second stage of the rocket's ascent. The Ares I first stage will consist of a five-segment solid rocket booster and motor similar to those used on the space shuttle. The second, or upper, stage will consist of a J-2X main engine, a fuel tank for liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, and associated avionics.
Depending on NASA’s requirements, Boeing will be given the opportunity to produce two to six upper stages each year during regular production. The initial phase of the contract calls for several flight-test production units however, if all of the contract options are exercised Boeing could produce as many as 23 upper stages by 2017.
"The Boeing team is honored to be selected as NASA's Ares I Upper Stage production partner and to be part of the Constellation team," said Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration.
The contract will allow Boeing to provide new job opportunities for several hundred production support personnel to be stationed at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in addition to technical support personnel at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alaska.
The Marshall Space Flight Center is responsible for the design of the Ares I, with Boeing providing production engineering support. Shaw believes that Boeing has been given a unique opportunity in being a part of this project. "We have a proven team that is eager to help NASA and the nation write the next chapter in the history of human space exploration," he said.
Boeing will provide support to a NASA-led design team during the design phase and will be responsible for production of the Ares I upper stage. Boeing will manufacture a ground test article, three flight test units and six production flight units to support NASA's flight manifest through 2016. Final assembly of the upper stage will take place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
In 2006, Lockheed Martin was named as the prime contractor to design, develop, and build the Orion spacecraft.