NASA picks Boeing for new rockets; Final assembly will be at Michoud

Expected to be a boost to New Orleans economy

Orion will be used to carry four astronauts to the moon and six explorers to Mars, as well as deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station. The module that will carry the astronauts will be shaped like the former Apollo capsule spacecraft, only larger and able to move at a rate 10 times faster than the space shuttle.

The Ares I upper stage rocket that will help propel Orion will be a single solid rocket booster and motor similar to those used on the space shuttle. The shuttle, however, uses a pair of four-segment solid rocket boosters; the new rocket will include a fifth motor segment. The Ares I will provide the navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the second stage of the rocket's ascent.

The Ares I upper stage development is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"We expect in the area, the Louisiana and Mississippi area, employment will likely peak out around 250 or so," said Danny Davis, Upper Stage Element manager for NASA.

That workforce will begin working in late 2008, he said.

In the interim, NASA will have to prepare the site for the production facility before the actual work can begin. Once a site is selected from the 800-plus acres at Michoud, actual excavation work for construction would likely occur in late 2008 to early 2009, Davis said.

It's too early to say what the employment numbers at Michoud will be until final details are worked out in consultation with NASA, said Jim Chilton, Boeing's vice president of Exploration Launch Systems, based in Huntsville, Ala. He will serve as program manager for Ares I upper stage production work.

Chilton said the company anticipates having its suppliers deliver parts to Michoud and having the assembly work done there for delivery to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Boeing already has subcontractors lined up in the Huntsville area, where the company has significant operations at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Boeing is continuing to search for subcontractors in the Louisiana and Mississippi area that would serve the Stennis and Michoud facilities on the Ares I project. Late last year, the company set up an office in New Orleans as it prepared to bid on the Ares I rocket.

Then, in November, a Boeing team held open events inviting small local suppliers to learn what Boeing's needs for the project would be and how they could participate, Chilton said.

"We began vetting some local suppliers and had some good luck with that," he said. "We have some strong candidates."

As Boeing begins to work with NASA on detailed production requirements, Boeing will set up a team at Michoud and allow suppliers to compete for roles at the facility.

In addition to having the rocket built there, Michoud has been designated as the site for several other production jobs. The Orion crew exploration vehicle will be assembled at Michoud under Lockheed Martin's direction.

The Michoud facility has picked up another construction job, separate from the Constellation program. NASA chose two companies for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project, an effort to get private companies to build vehicles to deliver crew and cargo to the space station. One of those contractors, Rocketplane Kistler, will integrate and assemble its commercial vehicle at Michoud.

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