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Boeing Slows Development of Rocket

June 06, 2002|From Bloomberg News

Boeing Co. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. slowed development of a new rocket engine that would have been among the first of its type in 40 years after a slump in the commercial space market.

Boeing shifted engineers who had been working on the so-called MB-XX engine at its Canoga Park-based Rocketdyne unit to other projects, including one funded by NASA, Boeing spokesman Dan Beck said.

The decision reflects a declining market for commercial rocket launches, which fell to 19 last year from a peak of 41 in 1998. Satellite-phone projects such as Iridium collapsed and recessions in many markets dried up capital. The MB-XX would have competed with United Technologies Corp.'s RL-10 engine, which was developed in the late 1950s.

Boeing now doesn't expect to put the engine into service by 2004 and will only move forward once "various market opportunities open up," Beck said. The U.S. Air Force has expressed concern about the lack of U.S. rivals to the RL-10, suggesting there's demand for a new engine, he said.

In the meantime, the Rocketdyne unit is working on other projects. A $34-million NASA grant funds research on a reusable rocket engine that would generate more than 1 million pounds of thrust, the most since the Saturn V vehicle used for the Apollo lunar landings.

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