The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Thursday selected six teams of aerospace firms, including a handful of major Southern California contractors, to conduct preliminary work on the U.S. space station.
But NASA surprised the industry when it declined to select winning teams for the largest of the four work packages in the space station program--the preliminary design for the spacecraft's structural framework, living accommodations, communications system and data system.
Nevertheless, the selections represent an important milestone for major aerospace firms seeking to participate in the $8-billion program to develop and launch the U.S. space station, mandated by President Reagan last year.
All of the NASA contracts will be relatively small, and the winning contractors are expected to make large investments of their own money. But the possible payoff is a major piece of the largest space contract on the horizon.
NASA said it plans to enter negotiations with three corporations seeking the largest work package, which will be managed by the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The contracts will be worth $27 million.
Rockwell International Corp., Lockheed Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. are contending for contracts. Rockwell conducts its space work in Downey, McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach and Lockheed in Sunnyvale, Calif.
"We didn't expect this," said Bud Benner, program manager for Rockwell's space station division. "We would like to have seen a winner announced. I think NASA felt it did not have enough information to make a decision."
Bob Marcellini, director of Lockheed's space station program, said he expects NASA to reach a decision quickly.
In the awards Thursday, NASA selected teams led by Martin Marietta Corp. and Boeing Co. to design common modules that will make up the space station, as well as a propulsion system, environmental system and a laboratory. The contracts, which will be managed by Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., are expected to be worth $24 million for each team.
The big loser in the announcement is General Dynamics Corp., whose Convair division in San Diego is a major manufacturer of rocket boosters and cruise missiles.
Rockwell International's Rocketdyne division in Canoga Park and TRW's Federal Systems division in Redondo Beach were selected to perform work on the space station's electrical power system. Los Angeles-based Garrett Corp., a subsidiary of Signal Cos., lost. Contracts will be for about $8 million.
RCA and General Electric were selected to conduct work on automated free flying platforms that will orbit nearby the space station.