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Boeing wins second stage contract for Orion

May 21, 2012

NASA announced last week that they have selected the upper stage of the Delta IV launch vehicle for the second stage of the first Orion launches. This upper stage will be lifted by the (currently non-existent) Space Launch System first stage, which is supposed to have three modified Shuttle Main Engines and either solid or liquid-fueled strap-on boosters.

The Orion, or more boringly named the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is being built by Lockheed – Martin. Boeing builds the Delta IV upper stage with a Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engine and burns LOX and liquid hydrogen. The first flight of  Delta IV was in 2006.

I would expect that eventually Boeing will be named prime contractor for the first stage of the SLS as well. NASA institutionally believes that playing around with low-orbit launch vehicles by upstart little companies is all well and good, but when we get to the heavy-duty stuff we go with the proven big guys. Or maybe it’s when we get to spending real money?

I’m cynical, I know. And I really don’t have anything against Boeing. In fact, I’m chuckling today because the “Occupy Chicago” movement folks that were supposed to knock Boeing back on its heels today with the big demonstration actually had…a sort of little demonstration. Hundreds, not thousands.

I personally believe the demonstration today has far less to do with Boeing’s involvement in building military aircraft than it does with the fact that Boeing built a non-union plant in South Carolina, not bowing to Obama Administration pressure.

The second stage only generates about 25,000 pounds of thrust but can burn for over 1000 seconds. It’s a more powerful second stage than the one Astrium is going to build for the ATK Liberty launcher. At the moment, Boeing’s launch vehicles are the only game in town with that level of performance.

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