Better known for fierce rivalry than cosmic camaraderie, Boeing Co. and McDonnel Douglas Corp. said yesterday they are joining forces to probe a new era in commercial space exploration.
The aerospace giants want to develop a reusable launch vehicle to replace the aging Space Shuttle fleet.
"McDonnell Douglas and Boeing have teamed up to meet an urgent national need," said William Gaubautz, manager of the joint program. "The focus of this is solving the nation's problem of access to space, and reducing the costs."
Frequently in competition for the same contracts, the two companies will now bid jointly for a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to be awarded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The parties would not speculate on either the research costs involved or the potential value of the contracts NASA will award in the years ahead.
The costs may prove to be heavy.
Yet the rewards might run into the billions if the winning bidder comes up with a way to provide commercially viable launch systems to government and industry alike.
The venture aims to develop the X-33 -- a next-generation shuttle that would aim to launch spacecraft at a lower cost, safely, and with less down-time on Earth than current models.
Unlike today's shuttle, the X-33 would be fully reusable and do away with the costly launch infrastructure and throw-away tanks and stages, the companies said.