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Boeing Withdraws From McDonnell Partnership

June 04, 1996|From a Times Staff Writer

Boeing Co., which has been attempting to expand its presence in the space launch industry, has exited a partnership with McDonnell Douglas Corp. to bid on a NASA reusable launch system.

The Boeing move, which was first reported by the trade publications Space News and Aerospace Daily, is widely seen as a vote of no confidence in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration effort to induce private industry to invest in the new X-33 reusable space vehicle.

NASA's plan would require U.S. industry to underwrite the multibillion-dollar cost to develop both an experimental demonstrator vehicle and later a fleet of space vehicles.

Boeing was a subcontractor to McDonnell Douglas, which is leading one of the three teams bidding to develop the new system. Lockheed Martin and Rockwell International are leading the other teams.

Boeing told NASA officials of its decision about two months ago, according to a NASA spokesman at Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., which is managing the program.

Boeing's partnership with McDonnell covered only the first phase of the program, which has largely been completed, a Boeing spokesman said. He added that the firm is hoping to win subcontract work once NASA selects a winning team, a decision due in the next several weeks. McDonnell officials said Boeing's decision will not hurt their chances in the program.

Space experts said Monday that the X-33 program suffers from a number of serious problems, both because of difficult technical hurdles that lie ahead and the daunting economics of private financing of the program.

"The Boeing people ran the numbers and decided they didn't add up," said John Pike, a space analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

NASA officials hope the experimental X-33 could lead to a new fleet of space lifters that would cut launch costs tenfold, but a number of aerospace companies are laying bets elsewhere. Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences, among others, are investing large amounts of money in other launch programs.

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