WASHINGTON — Honeywell, BAE Systems and Ball Aerospace have confirmed that they intend to lead competing industry teams in pursuit of a NASA contract to produce the avionics system that will be used on the U.S. space agency’s Ares 1 crew launch vehicle.

Neither Ball nor BAE Systems were ready April 6 to announce their teammates, but Honeywell said it would be going after the avionics work in partnership with Lockheed Martin.

Honeywell was selected last year to build displays and controls for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as part of a Lockheed Martin-led team on that effort.

Jerry Wellman, vice president for the crew launch vehicle at Honeywell Defense and Space in Columbia, Md., told Space News in an interview that Honeywell hopes to apply its avionics expertise to help NASA design, develop and produce the so-called instrument unit for Ares 1.

Lockheed Martin, Wellman said, would lend its expertise in systems integration. Honeywell’s team includes additional major subcontractors, he said, but declined to name them.

NASA is expected to release the draft request for proposals for the Ares 1 instrument unit the week of April 16 with the final solicitation due out in June. Industry sources following the competition expect no fewer than four teams to bid for the contract, which is expected to be worth roughly $400 million.

Other companies considering bidding as primes, these sources said, include Raytheon and Boeing, but noted that Boeing’s intentions have been especially hard to read.

Boeing spokesman Ed Memi confirmed April 6 that Boeing intends to compete for instrument unit work, but declined to say whether it would do so as a prime contractor or subcontractor.

Everett Tackett, a spokesman for Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., said April 6 the company was not ready to comment on its intent.

Harris Corp., Computer Sciences Corp. and General Dynamics also have been keeping a close eye on the competition and could show up on one or more teams or possibly even decide to lead bids of their own, these sources said.

Ball spokesman Roz Brown confirmed April 6 that the Boulder, Colo.-based company intends to go after the Ares 1 avionics work as a prime contractor. She said Bill Townsend, a former senior NASA manager, would be relocating to Huntsville to lead the effort as vice president for exploration systems.

Douglas Tighe, BAE Systems’ vice president for advanced systems, told Space News in an April 6 interview that the company would prime a bid for the instrument unit work, but was not ready to identify teammates. “The team has not been totally formed yet and I would rather announce total team once we have everybody signed up,” he said.

BAE Systems supplies avionics systems for launch vehicles and commercial and military aircraft. The company is a major avionics supplier for Joint Strike Fighter, Tighe said, and has performed relevant work in support of NASA’s X-33 experimental launcher and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas family of rockets.

NASA is expected to select its avionics contractor several months after it awards a roughly $900 million contract this summer for the production of upper stages for the Ares 1. Only two teams — one led by Boeing and an Alliant Techsystems-led team, which includes Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne — are expected to submit bids for that work by the April 13 deadline.

As is the case with the upper stage, NASA intends to be in the driver’s seat designing Ares 1’s avionics systems. Industry’s role, Wellman said, will be to assist in that design, produce the necessary components and deliver an integrated ring with those components on it that is ready to be stacked on the rocket.

The avionics on the instrument unit are designed to guide the rocket into orbit and will consist of onboard computers, flight controls , communications equipment, gyroscopes and other instruments for monitoring the rocket’s speed and position.

Wellman said the Honeywell team would perform most of the engineering work to be done in Huntsville, Ala., to be close the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center team running the Ares program. Final integration of the instrument ring, Wellman said, would take place at the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans — the same facility NASA plans to use for Ares 1 assembly.