Subcontractor Sued by Orbital Sciences Offers To Turn Over Hardware

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WASHINGTON —A contractor Orbital Sciences Corp. sued for delaying upgrades to the Virginia spaceport Orbital uses for space station cargo launches will turn over hardware needed for the improvements now that a resolution appears to have been reached.

“Everything shipped this morning, all the equipment,” Kevin Huber, managing director of Integrated Systems and Machinery, told SpaceNews in a Nov. 7 phone interview.

Mark Shifton, Huber’s attorney, told SpaceNews in a Nov. 7 email that “the case has not been settled, but Integrated Systems and Machinery and Orbital have reached an agreement on the material terms necessary to settle the matter.” Shifton said he was “very optimistic” the case would be settled “in the near future.”

This latest development in the case came less than a week after Huber told SpaceNews he would be willing to turn over some of the hardware Orbital claimed was being “held hostage.”

Huber made the offer in response to a motion Orbital filed Oct. 28 — the same day its Antares rocket exploded 15 seconds after liftoff on what was to be the company’s third paid cargo run to the international space station — asking a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, for a preliminary injunction forcing Huber to ship the hardware. Orbital spokesman Barry Beneski declined to comment on the dispute or confirm a settlement. However, Orbital Sciences on Nov. 6 withdrew its request for the injunction, according to court filings. Orbital’s initial complaint, filed Oct. 21, had not been withdrawn as of press time Nov. 7.

Orbital ordered the hardware from Huber’s firm in 2012 as part of a long-planned upgrade for the Transporter Erector Launcher that hauls Antares out to the pad and holds it upright for liftoff. The transporter, however, was among the ground support equipment damaged during Antares’ failure near the pad.

What is more, Orbital Sciences will not launch from Virginia’s Wallops Island again until at least 2016, when a redesigned Antares with a new core stage is expected to debut, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said in a Nov. 5 conference call with analysts and investors.

So while Huber says the hardware he owes Orbital is now on its way to the Dulles, Virginia-based aerospace contractor, it is unclear how soon Orbital needs to get going on the Transporter Erector Launcher upgrades, and whether they can proceed as planned.

Orbital Sciences previously agreed to pay Integrated Systems and Machinery about $2 million — Huber said his company will not be paid in full under the terms he reached with Orbital Nov. 6 — to build new cylinder assemblies and gimbal boxes for the hydraulic systems the Transporter Erector Launcher plugs into once it reaches the pad so it has the leverage it needs to raise Antares vertical for fueling and liftoff.

Orbital said in its original Oct. 21 complaint that the components were needed immediately because Orbital’s next cargo run — then scheduled for April 1 — would feature an enhanced Cygnus too heavy for existing hydraulic equipment to handle safely. The upgrades, according to the complaint, would take four months.

Prior to coming to terms with Orbital, Huber told SpaceNews that Integrated Systems and Machinery refused to ship the cylinder and other hardware because its contract with Orbital called not only for delivery of the equipment but for testing and other support services that were not performed. That means “we can’t release it unless they [Orbital] release us from liability for shipping a line-item incomplete,” Huber said in an Oct. 31 interview.

Meanwhile, Huber is still fighting a separate lawsuit, filed in 2013 with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, that alleges he stole trade secrets from his former employer, Advanced Fluid Systems of York, Pennsylvania, and used the information to win Orbital’s upgrade business for Integrated Systems and Machinery.

Orbital was once a defendant in that lawsuit, but Orbital and Advanced Fluid Systems settled out of court in May. Advanced Fluid Systems designed and built some of the hydraulic systems used to support the four Antares launches from Wallops Island that preceded the October failure and, according to court papers, expected the follow-on business eventually awarded to Integrated Systems and Machinery.