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NASA Clears Boeing to Resume Space Station Work

Aerospace: Work on a $542-million propulsion system had been put on hold because of the costs.

September 22, 2000|From Bloomberg News

Boeing Co. can begin work again on a backup propulsion system for the International Space Station after being ordered by NASA to stop work in July because the system became too expensive.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has developed a new design for the system that it says will be cheaper and safer.

NASA also wants Boeing to increase competition among its subcontractors to lower costs on Boeing's $9.8-billion contract to design and build the space station.

The new system will be a backup to the main propulsion system in the Russian-made Zvezda module on the station. NASA ordered Boeing to stop work on the $542-million system after it threatened to go more than 15% over budget when the project was only 10% complete.

The cost of the new program will not be known until early next year, but NASA expects the proposal to have about the same cost as the original design--$542 million--without the threatened cost overruns, said Kirsten Williams, a NASA spokeswoman. The new system uses portions of a test module built and designed six years ago by Boeing but never used, she said.

The design change came about when NASA decided an original plan to refuel the station's propulsion system in space from a space shuttle became too risky and expensive. Instead, the system will return to Earth periodically for refueling and then be sent back into orbit to the station, Williams said.

NASA decided to continue building the system despite the successful launch of the Zvezda this summer, to stay independent of Russian technology and control systems for the refueling of the station, said Mike Hawes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for space development.

About $1 billion in overruns has cost the Boeing's Space and Communications Unit in Huntington Beach almost all its profit on the contract.

The unit manages the Delta family of rockets, Global Positioning System satellites, the Airborne Laser National Missile Defense program, and new Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle launch program.

A Boeing spokeswoman was unavailable for comment on the new proposal.

The U.S. and 15 other countries are working on the space station, which by 2006 will weigh 500 tons. It is expected to host up to seven scientists at a time and house six separate laboratories to do zero gravity research. The first permanent crew arrives at the station in early November.

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