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.


 
 

 
NASA photograph by Dimitri Gerondidakis

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, rocket move closer to first flight

NASA photograph by Dimitri Gerondidakis The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will send NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first flight test in December was moved to its vertical launch position Oct. 1 at Space La...
 
 
lm-orion3

Orion spacecraft transfers To launch abort system facility

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j68mszdhTmY NASA and Lockheed Martin have finished fueling the Orion spacecraft with ammonia, hydrazine and high pressure helium at Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facili...
 
 

NASA telescopes find clear skies, water vapor on exoplanet

Astronomers using data from three of NASA’s space telescopes – Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler – have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected. “This discovery...
 

 
NASA photograph by Aubrey Gemignani

New crew launches to space station to continue scientific research

NASA photgoraph Three crew members are heading to the International Space Station after launching in a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:25 p.m., EDT, Sept. 25. Three crew members representing the...
 
 

NASA expands commercial space program, requests proposals for IS resupply

On the heels of awarding groundbreaking contracts to U.S. commercial space companies to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA has released a request for proposals for the next round of contracts for private-sector companies to deliver experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory. Under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 RFP, NASA intends...
 
 

ATK offers solid solution to U.S. Air Force’s RD-180 replacement request

ATK has provided the U.S. Air Force an American-made commercial solid rocket solution as a replacement for the RD-180 Russian-made, first-stage engine of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle. “ATK’s solid rocket propulsion solution provides a cost-effective, reliable solution based on advanced technology,” said Blake Larson, president of ATK’s Aerospace ...
 




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>