Boeing Gets $175 Million to Adapt Delta IV Stage for Space Launch System

Despite NASA paying Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne $1.2 billion to develop the J-2X upper stage for the new Space Launch System, the space agency will use modified Delta IV stages on the first two flights of the new heavy-lift booster.

The price tag? A cool $175 million. The beneficiary? Boeing. And, curiously enough, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

Confused? Space News has the story:

Boeing’s contract includes options for NASA to order two additional upper stages for SLS flights beyond 2021. If NASA exercises these options, Boeing’s contract will be worth $307 million over 12 years. Boeing will also provide flight spares for any rocket stages ordered by NASA. SLS will launch the Lockheed-built Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to the Moon and back in 2017 and 2021. Only the second mission will be crewed.

The so-called Interim Cryogenic Propulsion system NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is buying from Boeing is powered by the same Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-102 engine that powers the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) on which it is based.

NASA says that Delta 4’s 5-meter upper stage requires relatively minor modifications to be used for SLS missions. The modifications include adding redundancy and increasing design margins to make the DCSS suitable for manned missions and either stretching the liquid hydrogen stage a matter of centimeters or using the DCSS attitude control system for a final, third burn for additional performance.

NASA announced Boeing’s award on an online post explaining the agency’s reasons for sole-sourcing the contract. NASA said it received three proposals for an interim cryogenic propulsion stage, but that only Boeing’s could meet the agency’s requirements “with relatively minor modifications.” Boeing will have to complete these modifications and deliver the first of the two stages to NASA by Sept. 30, 2016.

The story doesn’t say why NASA needs to use Delta IV upper stages, but I seem to recall that the J-2X engine will be mothballed for years due to budgetary limitations. It’s just one more part of the Space Launch System that seems to make little sense.

Read the full story.