Northrop Grumman, Boeing reach for the stars

Defence contractor Northrop Grumman and Boeing said on Tuesday they will bid as a team to compete for Nasa’s planned manned and robotic space exploration programme.

The two companies say they will start with a joint bid for the crew exploration vehicle, the first phase of “Project Constellation,” which is designed to explore the moon and travel to Mars. The companies say they will also compete on future elements of the programme.

“We feel it brings together the best in the industry to provide Nasa the best value for the challenges they face,” said Doug Young, an executive in Northrop Grumman’s systems integration sector.

Under the plan, Northrop will serve as the prime contractor on the development and testing of the crew exploration vehicle (CEV), which is designed to carry crew members into low Earth orbit. Boeing will serve as a team member and subcontractor for Northrop during this phase.

The two companies will then switch roles, with Boeing taking the lead for the expansion of the CEV into a craft that can travel to the Moon and Mars.

The two companies will submit response to a request for proposals, which Nasa is expected to issue sometime next year.

The space agency is expected to choose two teams to work on the vehicle, which could be demonstrated by 2008.
One team is expected to be chosen to build the craft, which could be operational as early as 2014.

Lockheed Martin and Orbital Science are also expected to bid on the project and may even join forces to offer a rival team bid, according to aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet of JSA Research.

The project could mean the creation of a substantial number of new jobs, especially in Southern California, where Northrop and Boeing Space systems have numerous facilities.

But the contracts are not expected to contribute significantly to either company’s profits.

“It’s more of a prestige item,” Nisbet said.

“It’s not one that is going to make either company very rich. These one of a kind items are almost always cost-plus contracts with very little profit for the prime contractors.”

Northrop and Boeing were awarded contracts earlier this year to help Nasa develop its “system of systems” architecture for Project Constellation, a broad mandate to define designs and cost estimates for crew vehicles, rockets and other elements of the programme.

On Tuesday, Northrop and Boeing said they would continue to work on those contracts and deliver separate reports to Nasa.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Boeing shares rose 64 cents to close at $52,51 while Northrop shares fell 11 cents to $54,40. Lockheed shares lost 19 cents to close at $57,01. - Sapa-AP

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