The big guns from the space programs at Rockwell International Corp., McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Lockheed Martin are converging on Huntsville, Ala., this week for a shootout over a $900-million NASA contract to produce a prototype for a reusable launch vehicle to replace the space shuttle fleet.
Teams of executives and engineers from all three companies will be pitching their proposals for the last time before NASA officials make their decision--expected to be announced at the end of the month.
For the winner, the so-called X-33 program means glory and an inside track for the far more lucrative ($5 billion to $12 billion) contract to produce a new generation of shuttles if NASA decides to retire the fleet Rockwell built. Two of the contenders have a big presence in Orange County: Rockwell is based in Seal Beach, while McDonnell Douglas' Space and Defense Systems operations are headquartered in Huntington Beach.
Orange County-based subcontractors are likely to get work out of the deal no matter who wins the prototype contract. McDonnell Douglas says it would use its Huntington Beach facility for engineering, project management and some manufacturing. Rockwell would be hiring hundreds of new workers, many from Orange County, to handle the program at its Space Systems facility in nearby Downey.
Rockwell officials also say that as many as 300 workers now assigned to the X-33 project at various facilities, including Downey and Seal Beach, could lose their jobs if the company doesn't get the contract.
But no matter which company is awarded the master contract for the X-33 prototype, Rockwell comes up a winner. The company's Space and Defense unit not only makes satellites and space shuttles, its Rocketdyne subsidiary in Canoga Park makes rocket engines. And Rocketdyne engines are a critical component of all three X-33 proposals.
John O'Dell covers major Orange County corporations, manufacturing and economic issues for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.