NASA Taps Boeing to Build Avionics for New 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 -- Boeing Space Exploration of Houston nabbed its second major role on NASA's new astronaut launcher, winning a contract potentially worth $800 million to build and outfit an avionics ring that will control the Ares I rocket in flight.

Boeing beat out Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. for the contract award, denying the Boulder, Colo., company what would have been its first piece of NASA's planned space shuttle replacement.

"Their final proposals were very competitive and they point to the value of competition in awarding these contracts," said Doug Cooke, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems.

The avionics ring will be mounted to the Ares I upper stage, which Boeing was selected to produce in August under a contract that could be worth as much as $1.13 billion.

The value of the initial Ares I avionics contract, which runs through 2016 and includes one ground test unit, three flight test units and six production units, is $265.5 million. Additional work not included in the initial deal could be worth $420 million, and that plus $114 million for another 12 flight units could bring the total value of the deal to $799.5 million, NASA said in a press release.

The Ares I launcher features a core stage based on the space shuttle's solid-rocket boosters and a liquid-fueled upper stage. The vehicle design is being led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., with major support from Alliant TechSystems, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is responsible for building the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that will launch atop Ares I, initially on missions to the international space station and eventually, NASA hopes, to the Moon.

The avionics ring will be outfitted with all the electronics needed to provide guidance, navigation and control for the entire Ares I rocket. Boeing's job is to select the electronic components that best meet NASA's needs and install them on the inside of a large metal ring that connects the Ares I upper stage and the Orion capsule.

A total of five teams submitted proposals this summer for the so-called Instrument Unit Avionics contract. In early October, NASA quietly narrowed the field of contenders to Boeing and Ball. The three firms passed over for further consideration were BAE Systems, Honeywell Technology Solutions and Raytheon Missile Systems. That decision surprised some aerospace analysts who saw those three major avionics vendors as favorites heading into the competition.