Space

April 30, 2012

Space businesses looking for new direction

by Stephen Singer
Associated Press

Less than a year after NASA ended its shuttle program, players in America’s space business are casting around for new direction.

United Technologies Corp. is the most recent company to announce it will sharply scale back its role in space exploration. It’s selling Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a manufacturer of rocket engines and liquid-propulsion systems that it’s owned for seven years. The sale of Rocketdyne and other businesses are intended to raise $3 billion to finance United Technologies’ purchase of aerospace parts maker Goodrich Corp.

Greg Hayes, chief financial officer at United Technologies, rapped U.S. space policy when he announced the decision in mid-March to sell Rocketdyne.

“Growth will be limited at Rocketdyne,”Hayes told investor analysts. “It’s still a very good business. It’s a national asset … but unfortunately, without a national space policy, growth will be limited for some time.”

Rocketdyne dates to early rocketry, working with pioneers such as Wernher von Braun and contributing to propulsion on Apollo spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s that brought astronauts to the moon.

The company has a future with NASA even if the space agency’s path is unclear, said Rocketdyne President Jim Maser. Three of four companies vying to take crew to the space station would use Rocketdyne propulsion, he said. Still, he said, NASA’s path is unclear.

“There is an official space policy and I can’t cite it, to be honest,” Maser said.

NASA’s 30-year shuttle program ended last July with the voyage of Atlantis. The space shuttles Discovery and Enterprise have become museum pieces, turned over by NASA in April to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the USS Intrepid floating air-and-space museum in New York, respectively.

Other companies have shifted some business from space exploration. Lockheed Martin closed its shuttle tank production line in New Orleans in 2010, ending the jobs of about 1,400 workers. A year later, NASA chose that site in New Orleans to build components of its new heavy-lift rocket, but only if Congress funds the project.

ATK Space SystemsTech has laid off hundreds of workers in Utah, citing the phase-out of the space shuttle and the Minuteman III ballistic missile programs.

And Florida’s Space Coast, once the center of rocket launches, has lost thousands of jobs.

NASA is still using companies such as Boeing, SpaceX and others to ferry cargo and astronauts to and from the International Space Station in three to five years. Until then, the space agency will spend tens of millions of dollars per seat on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

High-profile space exploration is now becoming a commercial venture. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral to the space station this month. And a group of wealthy backers, including Google executives and filmmaker James Cameron, are behind an asteroid-mining idea.

NASA suffers in comparison with its early days when it followed through on a grand vision by national leaders, starting with President John F. Kennedy, of sending men to the moon, said Olivier L. de Weck, an associate professor of aeronautics, astronautics and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s a little bit unfair to say NASA has had no space policy,” he said. “It’s not as monumental as Apollo, but it’s still robust and a leader in breadth and scope of impact.”

NASA is working on a new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. But several businesses such as SpaceX insist that with time, they also can build a launch system, de Weck said.

“It’s a real policy question, government competing with private business for space launch,” de Weck said.

An argument can be made that government should focus on military applications such as spy satellites and explore beyond earth while leaving space launches to private business, he said.

United Technologies is not exiting space exploration entirely. The company is selling three industrial businesses at its Hamilton Sundstrand subsidiary, but is leaving untouched the company’s work in making space suits, launch systems and other space equipment.

A spokesman for Hamilton Sundstrand would not discuss its space business until after the Rocketdyne sale. Hayes told investor analysts April 24 that United Technologies expects to sign a contract shortly for the sale of the company.

Matt Collins, an analyst at Edward Jones, said United Technologies has scaled back Hamilton Sundstrand’s involvement in space exploration.

“It’s a fraction of the business today,” he said.

Chris Quilty, a Raymond James analyst, said that without the shuttle, the United States no longer has a vehicle to put humans into space, calling into question the need for rockets.

“The rocket does not have a mission. It does not have a payload,” he said. “There’s no lunar lander. It’s literally a rocket to nowhere.”

Industry changes are spurring “some truly innovative commercial companies coming into existence,” such as Space Exploration Technologies, Quilty said. In December 2010, SpaceX became only the fourth entity – after the U.S. Russian and Chinese governments – to put a capsule into space.

Rocketdyne’s Maser said space travel is essentially about physics and economics. Only the financial part has changed, he said.

“Fundamentally, how we leave the planet hasn’t changed,” he said. “We haven’t come up with a brilliant new way to do that.”

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Northrop Grumman’s AstroMesh reflector successfully deploys for NASA’s SMAP satellite

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully deployed the mesh reflector and boom aboard the Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, a key milestone on its mission to provide global measurements of soil moisture. Launched Jan. 31, SMAP represents the future of Earth Science by helping researchers better understand our planet. SMAP’s unmatched data capabilities are enabled...
 
 
NASA photograph by Brian Tietz

NASA offers space tech grants to early career university faculty

NASA photograph by Brian Tietz Tensegrity research is able to simulate multiple forms of locomotion. In this image, a prototype tensegrity robot reproduces forward crawling motion. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Director...
 
 

NASA releases first global rainfall, snowfall map from new mission

Like a lead violin tuning an orchestra, the GPM Core Observatory – launched one year ago on Feb. 27, 2014, as a collaboration between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – acts as the standard to unify precipitation measurements from a network of 12 satellites. The result is NASA’s Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM...
 

 

New NASA Earth Science Missions expand view of our home planet

Four new NASA Earth-observing missions are collecting data from space with a fifth newly in orbit ñ after the busiest year of NASA Earth science launches in more than a decade. On Feb. 27, 2014, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory into space from Japan. Data from...
 
 

NASA, ESA telescopes give shape to furious black hole winds

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions – a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now. This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these...
 
 
NASA photograph by Gary Banziger

Jurczyk named head of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate

NASA photograph by Gary Banziger NASA’s Steve Jurczyck addresses an audience during a manufacturing event in Hampton, Va., last month. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Steve Jurczyk as the agency’s Associ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>