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UA Leads In NASA Deals Here:
In rest of state, businesses get most funding
Arizona Daily Star
By Michelli Murphy
When the University of Arizona failed to land a $36.8 million NASA contract last week, it was a rare loss in the UA’s long history of bringing space dollars to Tucson.
The university is the dominant force among the local organizations bringing NASA contracts to Tucson.
Educational institutions, led by the UA, have consistently pulled in three to four times the NASA funds that local businesses have, though Raytheon Missile Systems is among the private entities hunting for NASA contracts.
That’s the reverse of the picture in Arizona as a whole, which brought in about $100 million in NASA contracts last fiscal year, ranking the state 15th nationwide. Nearly three quarters of Arizona’s NASA contract money went to private businesses, with the rest going to educational and non-profit institutions.
The fight for NASA contracts is “incredibly competitive,” said Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp. After all, “this really is rocket science, “ he said.
The UA has provided itself well- equipped to beat the competition, receiving $11.6 million from more than 100 NASA contracts this fiscal year alone.
In 2003, the UA became the first public university to lead a Mars mission after winning the $325 million contract to build the Phoenix Mars Lander. Over a five-year period ending in 2008, the UA will directly receive about $50 million of that total to pay for salaries and subcontracts, said Sara Hammond, public affairs manager for the Phoenix Mars Scout Mission.
Other UA projects include the Cassini-Huygens mission to explore Saturn and its moons, and the HiRise telescopic camera sending back detailed images of the Martian surface.
Last week, though, a UA proposal to launch a spacecraft to collect and
return material from a near-Earth asteroid lost a competition with two other finalists. The winner, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposal, will lead a $375 million moon mission.
Smaller contracts in reach
With NASA contracts totaling a mere $3 million this year, it’s clear Tucson businesses aren’t equipped to lead space missions. But that doesn’t mean smaller NASA contracts are out of reach.
Materials and Electro-chemical Research Corp. is one Tucson firm that has been winning NASA contracts for the last 20 years, said CEO James Withers.
It’s never easy, but we have a history of demonstrating we get the job done,” Withers said, adding that the company provides mirrors, engine components and material that protects against radiation for NASA missions. The company received $616,812 in NASA contracts last year.
Another consistent winner is Tucson-based Paragon Space Development. Headed by former Biosphere 2 crew members Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, the company found its NASA niche in life support systems. Paragon builds the radiators, plumbing and ducting for the Orion spacecraft, and also performs thermal analysis and systems engineering for the craft.
NASA will use the spacecraft for its human spaceflight missions after the space shuttle is retired in 2010.
Paragon got $516,589 in NASA funding last year.
The fight for NASA contracts is so intense because “it’s the work people like to do,” MacCallum said. In the aerospace field, everyone wants to work on the “vehicle that takes us back to the moon and on to Mars,” he said.
Raytheon pursuing contract
Everyone includes Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems. The company, Southern Arizona’s largest employer, wants to be known as a “space exploration company,” said Don McMonagle, Raytheon’s vice president of NASA programs and former space shuttle commander.
Raytheon lost its 2007 bid to build the Ares I rocket that is set to carry the spacecraft Orion to the moon by 2020. Now, the company will pursue a contract to provide the avionics for the rocket, McMonagle said. It did not receive any new NASA funding last year.
“NASA loves the competition involved with winning contracts,” he said. “It’s been a challenge for us” to land the contracts the company is after.
Many of Raytheon’s existing technologies fall in line with NASA’s needs for human spacecraft and robotics, he said.
Because plans for Ares I and Orion sequels are under way, this is a “golden opportunity for this industry that has not traditionally been part of the space program,” McMonagle said.
Raytheon is learning how to develop proposals in a way that fits NASA’s needs.
“They’re a different customer than the Department of Defense,” he said. “We fully intend to be successful in this endeavor.”
Phoenix firms get most funds
It seems Phoenix firms are already successful contract winners, as they account for 69 percent of Arizona’s total NASA funding.
But nearly all of the Phoenix funds were given to just three companies: Orbital Sciences Corp., General Dynamics C4 Systems Inc. and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.
Orbital Sciences Corp. received $40 million this year – just $10 million less than the UA will received for its Phoenix Mars Lander project.
Orbital has a 25-year history of working with NASA, said Vice President of Public Relations Barron Beneski. The Virginia-based company’s Chandler location is the launch vehicle plant, which produces the rockets that send NASA’s small satellites into orbit.
The company focuses on space systems that are small and lightweight because it “(doesn’t) want to compete with the big guys like Lockheed and Raytheon,” Beneski said.
NASA “virtually always turns to Orbital” to make and launch its small exploratory satellites. “That’s our niche,” he said.
Michelli Murphy is a NASA Space Grant intern, who is paid in part by NASA.
Contact her at 573-4197 or at email@example.com