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Raytheon setting its sights on NASA

Former astronaut Donald McMonagle heads Raytheon's NASA initiative.

Former astronaut Donald McMonagle heads Raytheon's NASA initiative.

After a stinging defeat last year in a major contract bid, Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson has regrouped and is trying a new tack with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The world’s largest maker of guided missiles is convinced it has a bright future in working with NASA, but so far major contracts for work at the space agency have eluded it.

Paul Nisbet, an aerospace industry analyst with JSA Research Inc. in Malta, N.Y., isn’t surprised. “There is a lot of tough competition at NASA that makes it tough for a relative newcomer like Raytheon,” Nisbet said.

Still, NASA’s Project Constellation, which will send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, could help even the playing field. The project will include new missions and spacecraft and possibly opportunities for new players.

Raytheon views NASA contracts as a hedge against the eventual winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have been the company’s bread and butter since 2003. It’s one of a number of ancillary opportunities the company is pursuing in an effort to diversify.

“Although missile defense is a top priority of the Bush administration, Democrats have indicated that the Missile Defense Agency is an area of potential spending cuts,” said Patrick McCarthy, analyst at FBR Capital Markets, in a recent report.

Raytheon can send a missile into a target thousands of miles away and believes it can send rockets into space for significantly less than NASA now pays.

“NASA needs our technology,” said Donald McMonagle, who heads Raytheon’s NASA initiative. “We are developing capabilities that have a direct application to NASA’s space-exploration mission and could be an untapped resource for the agency.’

Nisbet agreed that Raytheon’s technologies could fit with NASA, but said, “Adapting their significant knowledge to NASA’s needs would be difficult without running into considerable competition.”

Raytheon was in competition to build the guidance system for the Ares I Rocket, a component of Project Constellation that will carry astronauts into space when the shuttle program ends in 2010.

Raytheon saw the $800 million contract as its entree to NASA, but its proposal never made it to the second round in the selection process. The contract went to Boeing, a longtime NASA contractor.

Nisbet said that the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are very tight with NASA and combined own about 50 percent of the agency’s business.

“They know NASA inside and out,” he said.

NASA did not respond to calls for a comment about its award.

McMonagle acknowledged that Raytheon’s inexperience with NASA was a factor in losing the Ares I contract.

“We were not engaged early enough and at the right levels to fully understand what their expectations were,” he said.

McMonagle said the company is “smarter now” with respect to NASA and is working to obtain contracts to do preliminary design work on the Ares V rocket that will carry astronauts back to the moon and the Altair Lunar Lander that will take them to the moon’s surface.

“By embedding ourselves in the formulation of the designs, we are in a position down the road to compete for the prime contracts,” McMonagle said.

McMonagle and Raytheon hope Project Constellation will give the company a break.

“It’s a new era at NASA with a whole new array of missions and space vehicles,” McMonagle said.

“It’s a golden opportunity for Raytheon and Arizona.”

Nisbet agrees there will be opportunities at NASA with Project Constellation but says companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences would be hard to displace.

“They could chip away at small-dollar things that would slightly diversify them, but I can’t see them getting anything substantial enough to make a real difference,” he said.

Still, as a career astronaut, McMonagle knows his way around NASA. He was selected as an astronaut in 1987 and flew three shuttle missions, logging 605 hours in space.

Later, as manager of launch integration at the Kennedy Space Center, he was responsible for final shuttle preparation, launch execution and return of the orbiter.

He joined Raytheon in 2006.

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