Profile: Ensuring a Future in Spaceflight

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  Space News Business

Profile: Ensuring a Future in Spaceflight

By BRIAN BERGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 03 May 2007
06:21 pm ET


Brewster Shaw

Vice President and General Manager, Boeing NASA Systems


Brewster Shaw’s major challenges are making sure Boeing lives up to its commitment to help NASA close down the shuttle program and complete assembly of the international space station while also trying to secure the company a new role in human spaceflight’s future by winning a piece of NASA’s Constellation program.

The Space Exploration business unit he runs includes many legacy companies that together dominated the NASA human space flight business for decades. Losing the competition last year to build the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) was a bitter disappointment for the men and women at the heart of those businesses and Shaw, a former astronaut who held senior management positions at NASA before moving to industry in 1996, is focused on extending their legacy into the future.

“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for the U.S. industrial base relative to the Vision for Space Exploration, and I am confident that Boeing will find its appropriate role in supporting NASA on Constellation,” Shaw said. “By the time we get back to the Moon, more than half of the people on Earth won’t have been alive when we were there the first time, and so it is going to be a big deal again … The United States of America needs to be in a position of leadership the next time we go to the Moon just like we were the first time. Our goal is to help NASA and America do that.”

Toward that end Boeing wants to help NASA build the new spacecraft and rockets it needs to make that return to the Moon possible. The company submitted a proposal in mid April to build the upper stage for the Orion’s Ares 1 launcher and also plans to bid on a contract to supply the rocket’s avionics systems.

Shaw met with Space News staff writer Brian Berger in Colorado Springs, Colo., recently to talk about these opportunities and the challenges Boeing faces as it transitions from one era of space exploration to the next.


How important is it for
Boeing to win the NASA contract for the Ares 1 upper-stage work
?

Our goal is to continue to help NASA be successful in human spaceflight and there are a lot of aspects to that, including successful assembly of the international space station, flying out the shuttle and a smooth transition of that work force. At the same time, I’m confident we will play a role in Constellation and bring our highly skilled, very experienced work force to bear on the projects and the issues that NASA has to deal with as Constellation rolls out.

If Boeing does not win Ares 1 upper-stage work, what other Constellation work is left to pursue?

There are no other significant opportunities in the near term. Ares 5, the Earth Departure Stage and the Lunar Surface Access Module are all a few years away from getting started. There are opportunities to support NASA and Constellation with systems engineering, integration, configuration management and those kinds of things, but they’re all on a very small level.

NASA said Lockheed Martin’s use of Boeing 787 heritage avionics helped set its Orion proposal apart. Why didn’t Boeing tap this heritage for its Orion proposal?

Those kinds of decisions are up to the prime contractor. On CEV, Northrop Grumman was the prime contractor. So that was really their call.

Why do you think Boeing and Northrop Grumman lost Orion?

From what we learned from the post-selection debrief, I think NASA selected the Lockheed Martin offering based primarily on its price.

Is the lesson here to under bid your competition?

Ultimately you have to execute the proposal you submit. So it’s a balance to try to challenge yourself and your supply chain to provide winning prices in your proposal but with an eye towards, if you are fortunate enough to be selected, executing on that proposal. You never want to shoot yourself in the foot.

Does it help or hurt Boeing that the next major round of Constellation work will not be awarded until shuttle and the space station are winding down?

Our experienced work force is an asset,  and we will try to use that asset to help NASA be successful. With shuttle ending in 2010 and the follow-on Constellation projects getting started then, there’s a very nice opportunity to transition our work force out of the shuttle era and into the Constellation era.

How big is the work force Boeing is looking to transition?

We probably have 1,000 people between the international space station and shuttle programs today. We have a lot of people who will be eligible to retire at the end of the shuttle program. The big unknown is what they will decide to do. They may decide they’ve had a great career and they are going to retire. It’s difficult to predict. But for those that stay around to contribute to America’s new human spaceflight endeavor, we are going to try to provide an opportunity for them to do so working for the Boeing Co .

Will Boeing have to spend a lot on retention bonuses to keep the workforce it needs to fly out shuttle and complete the space station
?

We are looking at everything in our toolkit that we could bring to bear to make it easier for our work force to stick with the programs until the last wheel stop on the space shuttle and until the space station is no longer necessary to maintain.

The primary consideration for most people, I think, will be the potential to transition to a brand new adventure in space exploration.

I could be wrong, but if people feel like there’s a reasonable chance of having a job in the future in an industry they love, they are likely to hang in there with you. Especially the kind of people we have on shuttle and station. They’ve dedicated so much of there careers to these programs. They are going to be very reluctant to walk away.

Doesn’t that strategy suggest winning upper-stage work is vitally important for Boeing?

Winning upper stage would certainly be nice. But the upper-stage work is primarily in Alabama and Louisiana. Most of the people that are working on the shuttle and station are in Texas, Florida and California and are going to be gainfully employed for a while yet. So the timing is more critical at the end of the decade as we head into the development of the Ares 5, Earth Departure Stage and Lunar Surface Access Module, because that’s when our shuttle work force is going to become available.

At what point will enough of the shuttle program be shut down that flying much past 2010 won’t be possible?

That’s a good question and one that we all think about a lot. Really you should ask NASA. We are not privy to all the decisions NASA makes with respects to the other contractors. On shuttle, we are a subcontractor to United Space Alliance. We follow their direction. But NASA has lots of other elements of the space shuttle system they are responsible for managing — whether to terminate suppliers and that sort of thing.

We are not privy to most of that, so it’s difficult for me to say when we get to the point of no return. In some ways, you really never get to the point of no return if you are willing to spend the money it takes to restart. It does, however, at some point become very expensive to restart.

How does Boeing’s work force match up with the skills needed to develop and build Constellation hardware?

We still have a lot of people on both the shuttle and space station programs that were involved in design, development, test and evaluation activities and those people can transition very nicely. The same thing is true with the people doing sustaining engineering. Our current work force is a good fit for the Constellation projects. I’m not concerned about that.

Any parts of your work force that
do not fit with the work ahead?

The need for people who are specialists in the non-design functions will be a little bit later in the program than the need for the hardware designers and the manufacturing and production people.

Is Boeing looking at any new NASA opportunities?

We are very interested in the Commercial Orbital Space Transportation Services (COTS) program. We are talking to some of the COTS suppliers to identify ways that we could help them and there are ways I think will work out well.