Boeing to Build Upper Stage of NASA's Ares I Rocket
An artist's rendition of Ares I being stacked in the vehicle assembly building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Houston-based Boeing won NASA's contract to built the rocket's upper stage, which appears in orange below the conical Orion crew capsule.
Credit: NASA.

WASHINGTON ? NASA announced Tuesday that it has selected Houston-based Boeing Space Exploration to build the upper stage of the Ares I rocket the United States will use to launch astronauts into orbit after the space shuttle retires.

Boeing beat out Brigham City, Utah-based ATK Launch Systems and its teammates Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to win its first major piece of the new launch system.

The $514.7 million cost-plus-award fee contract runs through 2016 and covers the manufacture of a ground test article, three flight test units and six production flight units. The Ares I upper stage will boost NASA's planned shuttle successor, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, into orbit.

Boeing?s teammates on the program include Hamilton Sundstrand, Moog, Northrop Grumman, Orion Propulsion Inc., SUMMA Technology Inc., United Space Alliance and the United Launch Alliance.

Had Boeing lost the upper stage competition, it would have had only one more shot at getting a piece of the multibillion dollar new launch system ? a roughly $300 million contract NASA expects to award in December for the rocket?s avionics system. Boeing is among a half-dozen companies competing for that work.

NASA?s selection of Boeing is a disappointment for Brigham City, Utah-based ATK Launch Systems and its teammates Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the only other team to bid for the Ares I upper-stage contract.

However, ATK and its teammates already have major pieces of NASA?s space shuttle successor.

In early August, ATK signed a $1.8 billion contract August for the Ares I rocket?s main stage, a derivative of the solid-rocket boosters it builds for the shuttle. In July, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne concluded a $1.2 billion deal with NASA for the design, development and testing of the J-2X engine that will power Ares I?s liquid-fueled upper stage. And last August, Lockheed Martin Space Systems beat out Boeing and teammate Northrop Grumman for a nearly $4 billion contract to build the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, the six-person capsule designed to launch atop Ares I.

Most of Boeing?s upper stage work will be performed at NASA?s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Lockheed Martin currently uses the facility to manufacture giant external fuel tanks for the space shuttle. The Ares I upper stage, while smaller than the space shuttle external tank, will be much larger than any upper stage in service today.

NASA expects to conduct its first orbital flight test of the Ares I rocket in 2013 and start using the vehicle to transport astronauts to the International Space Station no later than March 2015. The finished rocket is expected to lift 55,000 pounds (25,000 kilograms) to low Earth orbit.