NASA on Tuesday selected four aerospace contractors to design and build the U.S. manned space station, a controversial project worth as much as $30 billion that will create about 6,000 jobs in California and another 6,000 in six other states across the nation.
Two of the NASA awards went to prime contractors in Southern California--McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in Huntington Beach and Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park.
In addition, General Electric's Astro-Space Division in Pennsylvania and Boeing's Aerospace Co. in Huntsville, Ala., were chosen. All four prime contractors will use dozens of subcontractors to do about 50% of the work, and many of those smaller firms are in the Southland. Peak employment on the project is expected in about three years.
Assembly in Orbit
The space station will be assembled in orbit above the Earth in the mid-1990s and will require 19 flights by the space shuttle to haul various parts into place. The station, which will be home to a crew of six to eight astronauts, will have living quarters, laboratories and work areas that will be attached to a 500-foot truss. It will be the largest structure ever put into space and is expected to be used for decades.
Although the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to issue preliminary contracts within two weeks, funding of the space station faces an uncertain future because of severe federal budget pressure.
"Our guess is that there will be enough (funds) to go ahead with these contracts, but we don't really know," NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher said in announcing the awards. "It took a little bit of courage on our part to go ahead."
The massive space station program will cost anywhere from $14.6 billion to $30 billion, depending on whether the expense of the space shuttle flights is included. Those figures do not include the contractors' profit or fees, which typically run 5% to 9% of the contract value.
In addition to congressional concern about the cost and risks of the space station, the National Research Council recently issued a scathing report that said the space station program is jeopardized by optimistic cost projections, management complexity and a shortage of future launch capacity. The program is likely to drain funds for other U.S. scientific space ventures, as well.
But NASA and industry officials Tuesday defended their cost estimates as being more conservative than earlier programs that often exceeded their projected cost, and said that the complex management system designed for the station is necessary for such a large undertaking.
The contractors selected Tuesday had bid for work totaling about $5 billion for a first phase of the station and an additional $1.5 billion for a second phase that would include a significant enlargement of the station and its power source.
More Expensive Projects
That $6.5-billion total, split among dozens of companies, does not rank the space station among the largest aerospace projects such as military aircraft programs that have cost tens of billions.
But the space station work will carry a unique and powerful prestige for those companies that participate.
"If we want to have manned exploration of space anywhere beyond this planet, the space station is an absolute essential," said Andy Stofan, NASA associate administrator for the space station. "If this country wants to remain in space and remain in technological leadership . . . that's what we can do with the space station. I cannot imagine this country walking away and turning space over to some other nation."
Indeed, McDonnell Douglas officials were ebullient about their $1.9-billion contract to build the overall framework of the station and to provide many of the key operational systems, including propulsion, communications, navigation, control centers, air locks, a visual dome, thermal management and its mobile space crane.
"It is the heart and the soul of the space station," said Bob Thompson, vice president and general manager for McDonnell's Space Station Division in Huntington Beach. "I think this is the best work package of the lot."
McDonnell officials said they expect that at least 1,000 jobs will be created at the firm's Astronautics unit in Huntington Beach and another 450 at company facilities in Houston. About 50% of the value of its contracts will be subcontracted to other firms, including Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., Honeywell, IBM and RCA.
1,000 Rocketdyne Jobs
Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division will provide the solar panels, battery assemblies and power management system for the space station at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion. Rocketdyne expects to have about 1,000 jobs on the space station program, said George W. Jeffs, Rockwell president of North American Space.
The company was unopposed in the competition after TRW dropped out early in the bidding. Jeffs termed the selection a "very substantial" new project for Rockwell.