McDonnell Douglas Corp. has signed an agreement with China to discuss the use of the U.S. company's rocket boosters to help launch Chinese-made satellites into space.
The agreement "does not allow anything specific to be sold or used" by the Chinese, said Jim Schlueter, a spokesman for McDonnell Douglas Astronautics in Huntington Beach, where the rocket boosters are made.
"What it does is establish a framework allowing us to submit a proposal to (the Chinese) for potential use. We've just agreed to talk."
Those talks have begun, according to officials at the St. Louis-based aerospace and defense concern, who added that any future sale of rocket boosters to China would have to be approved by the State Department.
Booster Developed in '70s
The discussions center on a McDonnell Douglas' Payload Assist Module, a booster developed in the mid-1970s for the space shuttle and McDonnell Douglas' Delta rocket. The PAM would be used as a third-stage booster on China's Long March rockets.
McDonnell Douglas officials stressed that a sale of the boosters to China would involve no transfer of U.S. technology to the Communist nation.
"We would build it, travel with it and do all the preparations ourselves," said Dan Green, vice president of marketing and advanced program development. "There would be no transfer of technical information."
U.S. law restricts the sale of certain technologies to Communist-bloc nations.
McDonnell Douglas' Schlueter said the agreement with China Great Wall Industry Corp., a state-owned satellite-launching venture, represents "a further opportunity to expand our markets."
The Chinese have used Long March rockets for several years to launch satellites and have recently signed agreements to launch commercial satellites for several U.S. companies.
China's efforts to obtain private customers for its Long March rockets have gained momentum since the January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger resulted in shuttle flight delays.
McDonnell Douglas has prior experience doing business with the Chinese. The U.S. company recently shipped two of its MD-80 commercial airlines to China and is supplying components that will be used to assemble more MD-80s in China.