Mentor deal lets firm play part in Shuttle replacement

A small US company based near to NASA̵7;s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama has won a deal to work with Boeing on the rocket that will transport astronauts into space after the Space Shuttle retires.

Orion Propulsion is partnering with the aerospace giant as part of a government-backed ̵6;mentor-protégé̵7; scheme that helps small businesses to compete for contracts by pairing them with large companies in the same sector.

The one-year contract will see the two firms working on the reaction control system (RCS) for Ares I, for which Boeing is producing the upper stage and instrument unit avionics. The RCS includes the small rocket engines and supporting subsystems that will control the rocket̵7;s orientation during its ascent into orbit. Potential future joint activities include integration of flight hardware, production of test equipment, tooling and provision of technical support services.

"Boeing will help Orion with much of their internal training to deal with propulsion system processes and items needed in producing the RCS for Ares I," explained Ray Robin, a supplier management official in Boeing's Exploration Launch Systems group.

"We will also share some of our best lean manufacturing practices with them to ensure they have efficient production processes. The benefit to Boeing is that we get a partner who meets our schedule and cost requirements and provides technical expertise in reaction control systems - it's a win-win for everyone."

OPI CEO Tim Pickens hopes the agreement will help his firm become a more cost-effective and viable subcontractor to NASA, Boeing and other customers. ̶0;We look forward to making the most of this historic opportunity to contribute to our nation's new launch vehicle," he said.

Image: An artist̵7;s impression of Ares I [NASA]

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