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Boeing, Textron Gain NASA Heat Shield Contracts

By | May 7, 2007

      NASA chose The Boeing Co. [BA] and Textron [TXT] to develop alternate heat shield materials for the Orion crew exploration spacecraft, the space agency announced.

      Boeing received a $10 million contract to develop one type of shielding material, while Textron received a $24 million deal to develop two types of protective material.

      Those two contracts for Alternate Block 2 Thermal Protection System (TPS) Materials and Heat Shield Systems Advanced Development will support development and testing of the three alternative heat shield materials, designs and manufacturing processes.

      The two companies will ensure technologies are mature enough to become viable backups if there are difficulties with the primary material.

      Those heat shielding materials would be used on the Orion-Ares manned crew exploration vehicle system in the Constellation Program.

      Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] is developing the Orion spaceship, which will be lifted into orbit by the Ares propulsion system to be developed by a company that NASA will select later this year.

      Orion will carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015, with a goal of landing astronauts on the moon no later than 2020. The Orion TPS Advanced Development Project, led by Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was established to develop a heat shield to protect Orion during its return from low-Earth orbit or the moon.

      In September 2006, Boeing was awarded a contract to develop the primary heat shield material, Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA), manufactured by its subcontractor, Fiber Materials, Inc., of Biddeford, Maine.

      The alternate materials will be developed fully only if the primary material does not perform to Orion Project specifications. NASA will assess and evaluate all of the Alternate Block 2 TPS materials through initial testing and select the most promising of the materials for further development, if needed.

      The Alternate Block 2 contract just awarded to Boeing has an approximate value of $10 million, including all options, and calls for Boeing to perform early investigation of a proprietary material, the Boeing Phenolic Ablator (BPA).

      The contract awarded to Textron has a value of approximately $24 million, including all options, and calls for Textron Systems to perform early investigation of two proprietary material options, Avcoat (used on Apollo) and Dual Layer.

      Each contract has a 16-month performance period through Aug. 31 next year.

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