Boeing Space Exploration of Houston nabbed its second major role on NASA’s new astronaut launcher, winning a contract potentially worth $800 million to build and outfit an avionics ring that will control the Ares 1 rocket in flight.

Boeing beat out Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. for the contract award, denying the Boulder, Colo., company what would have been its first piece of NASA’s planned space shuttle replacement.

“Their final proposals were very competitive and they point to the value of competition in awarding these contracts,”

Doug Cooke, NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration systems, said of the bids the agency received from both companies.

Cooke declined to discuss what set Boeing’s proposal apart since none of the other competitors had been presented yet with signed source selections statements outlining the reasoning behind NASA’s choice.

“The competition was very close. We just signed off on the selection statement and we need to get those to those who were involved in the competition. And that information will be available later,” Cooke said.

He also declined to name the other competitors, even though BAE Systems, Honeywell Technical Solutions and Raytheon Missile Systems

have made no secret of the fact that they bid unsuccessfully for the work.

The avionics ring will be mounted to the Ares 1 upper stage, which Boeing was selected to produce in August under a contract that could be worth as much as $1.13 billion.

Measuring some 5.5 meters in diameter and standing just over 2 meters high, the avionics ring will be equipped by Boeing and its suppliers with what Cooke termed “the brains of the rocket.”

The value of the initial Ares 1 avionics contract, which runs through 2016 and includes one ground test unit, three flight test units and six production units, is $265.5 million. Additional work not included in the initial deal could be worth $420 million, and that plus $114 million for another 12 flight units could bring the total value of the deal to $799.5 million, NASA said in a press release.

The Ares 1 launcher features a core stage based on the space shuttle’s solid-rocket boosters and a liquid-fueled upper stage. The vehicle design is being led by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., with major support from AlliantTechSystems, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is responsible for building the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that will launch atop Ares 1, initially on missions to the international space station and eventually, NASA hopes, to the Moon.

Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s NASA systems business unit, said he was pleased with the win. “It’s a pleasure to be on your team in another role,” Shaw told Cooke and the other NASA managers present here for the contract announcement. “As NASA is successful we will be successful as well. I don’t think there is any magic here. We all have a lot of hard work to do in the coming years.”

The avionics ring will be outfitted with all the electronics needed to provide guidance, navigation and control for the entire Ares 1 rocket. Boeing’s job is to select the electronic components that best meet NASA’s needs and install them on the inside of a large aluminum ring positioned between the Ares 1 upper stage and the Orion capsule.

“Boeing brings outstanding experience to us from their commercial airline business and also the commercial launch world,” said Danny Davis

, NASA’s upper stage element manager in charge of the avionics work.

Dwight Potter, Boeing’s Ares 1 instrument unit avionics program manager, said that while company’s early efforts would be focused in Huntsville, the contract

eventually would provide 20-30 new jobs at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

A total of five teams submitted proposals this summer for the so-called Instrument Unit Avionics contract. In early October, NASA quietly narrowed the field of contenders to Boeing and Ball. The three firms passed over for further consideration were BAE Systems, Honeywell Technology Solutions and Raytheon Missile Systems. That decision surprised some aerospace analysts who saw those three major avionics vendors as favorites heading into the competition.