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NASA contractors battling it out over space suits, shuttle

The battle for juicy NASA contracts is heating up as the space shuttle nears retirement in 2010 and work continues on the Constellation program to replace it.

NASA announced on Friday that it's terminating a potentially $745 million contract with Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston to make new space suits (left) for Constellation, which is supposed to return us to the moon by 2020.

Exploration Systems & Technology, Inc., a competitor for the contract, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after NASA awarded it on June 12 to Oceaneering.

"NASA looked at the protest and determined there was some corrective action needed," agency spokesperson Grey Hautaluoma told SciAm.com. The protest is under a GAO "protective order," Hautaluoma added, which means NASA can't say anything more.

According to Reuters, NASA officials wrote in a letter last week that the agency had not asked Oceaneering to disclose its "cost accounting standards." The letter said NASA plans to hold "limited discussions" about new proposals with Oceaneering and United Technologies Corp., whose Hamilton Sundstrand unit has been NASA's primary space suit contractor since 1981.

The conflicts go beyond space suits. The Orlando Sentinel reports that a "potentially damaging legal dustup" has broken out between Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK), the company building the new Ares rocket, and United Space Alliance (USA), NASA's main contractor for the space shuttle.

According to the Sentinel, USA filed suit Friday alleging that ATK defrauded the shuttle contractor and violated a long-term contract between the two by poaching engineers from USA.

The Sentinel cited unnamed industry sources worried that the legal battle could delay a test flight planned for next year of the Ares I-X rocket, a smaller version of the Ares I. USA also claimed that ATK's hiring of skilled shuttle workers could endanger the final 10 shuttle flights.

More on Ares I tomorrow in a NASA teleconference that is supposed to address concerns that the rocket as designed could shake itself apart—along with the Orion crew module perched atop it—during liftoff.

Related: Could the Russia-Georgia conflict jeopardize U.S. space plans?

 

 

Image credit: NASA

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