- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Struggling Orbital Sciences Corp. won a lucrative $425 million contract yesterday to develop a booster rocket for the Pentagon's missile-defense program.
The contract could be worth nearly $1 billion if Boeing Corp., the federal government's primary contractor on the ground-based missile-defense program, exercises options for more work from Orbital.
The contract is one of the biggest in the company's history, Orbital Chairman and Chief Executive David W. Thompson said.
Orbital has not recorded a profitable year since 1997. The Sterling, Va., satellite and space systems manufacturer had considered merging with another company or shopping for another firm willing to acquire it.
Orbital's stock surged yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, closing up 84 cents, or 14 percent, to $6.79.
Boeing, which is managing the ground-based missile-defense program under a $6.4 billion contract, selected Orbital over Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest U.S. defense contractor and the only other company competing for the contract.
Under the terms of the agreement, Orbital will develop an alternative booster vehicle. The rocket is intended to carry a "kill vehicle," intended to slam into and destroy hostile rockets. The alternative booster vehicle must get the kill rocket within the general vicinity of an incoming enemy rocket.
The Pentagon could order up to 70 of Orbital's rockets.
Orbital hasn't tested the design of the alternative booster rocket it has proposed for the ground-bassed missile-defense program, but the company's plan relies on its Pegasus and Taurus rockets, both of which have successfully launched satellites.
Pegasus, introduced by Orbital in 1990, is an air-launch rocket released from a jet that carries satellites into space for government and private-sector clients. Pegasus has failed just three times in 31 launch attempts.
The company introduced Taurus in 1994, and the traditional ground-based rocket has carried satellites to space five times and failed in one launch attempt.
Having Orbital develop an alternative booster vehicle is intended to overcome delays with the missile-defense project. The first test of Boeing's own booster was scheduled for March 2000. The company didn't launch it until August 2001. It succeeded, but a test in December failed because the booster went off course.


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