The apparent resolution of the contractual dispute between AlliantTechsystems (ATK) and United Space Alliance (USA) over work share on NASA’s Ares 1 launcher effort is a welcome development.
As the launcher for NASA’s space shuttle replacement – the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle – Ares 1 is indispensable to the agency’s future exploration plans. But this development effort cannot succeed absent full cooperation between two of its most critical contractors: ATK is responsible for the Ares 1 first stage, which is based on the giant solid rocket boosters the company builds for the shuttle program; USA, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that operates the shuttle fleet, is a major subcontractor to ATK on Ares 1.
in August filed suit against ATK for breach of contract, alleging the solid-rocket propulsion firm was poaching
‘s employees while scaling back its role on Ares 1. ATK said the lawsuit was without merit. Things escalated when
threatened to walk away from the program entirely by Sept. 21. It took a last-minute temporary agreement to keep
workers on the job until a final long-term deal could be negotiated.
The result, announced Oct. 16, was a new Ares 1 subcontract valued at $257 million that runs through 2014, meaning it covers the development phase of the effort. The deal was not a minute too soon in coming; Ares 1 faces enough challenges – some technical, some political – in meeting its scheduled 2015 debut without being the subject of a dispute between two of its top contractors.
The new contract is expected to be finalized over the next several weeks, at which time
‘s lawsuit presumably will be dropped. Both companies, along with NASA, which must review the deal, should take the time to be sure they get it right this time so Ares 1 program officials have one less thing to worry about.