Morton Thiokol has apparently decided not to bid on a NASA contract to build a new generation of booster rockets for the space shuttle, a source close to the company told the Deseret News Monday.
The source said Morton Thiokol feels the shuttle booster contract is a lost cause for them and that the company has made a business decision that it isn't worth the investment of people or money to go after the new, bigger, Advanced Solid Rocket Motor (BRM) contract.But the news is not all bad for Utah.
Instead, Thiokol is planning to invest between $100 million and $200 million in modernizing its Wasatch Operations facility in Box Elder County to seek other space and defense business, according to the source.
Company officials in Utah, however, say they are in the dark concerning any such plans.
"I'm unaware of any such decision in that regard," said company spokesman Rocky Raab.
Morton Thiokol's apparent decision not to go after the ASRM contract follows a NASA announcement earlier that it wants to build a government-owned facility to produce the larger rocket motors and subcontract with a private manufacturer to operate the plant.
It also comes on the heels of reports that say Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch are privately conceding that "the die is cast, and they can do nothing" to alter NASA's plans (o build its own booster facility).
NASA has already earmarked $27 million of its current budget for design and initial construction of the new booster plant somewhere on the Gulf Coast. Officials have said they plan to add $65 million from next year's budget to fund the project, and estimate it will take at least 10 years to get such a plant funded and operational.
The NASA announcement earlier this spring concerning the proposed plant sent ripples of doubt through Brigham City and other northern Utah communities about the future of their economies. The plant, located 25 miles west of Brigham City, is one of Utah's largest private employers, with 2,500 workers.
Although the decision by Morton Thiokol not to pursue the ASRM contract means Utah's most visible defense contractor will be stepping out of the shuttle spotlight in the future, the company will remain a key player in the shuttle program for the present - continuing to supply shuttle booster hardware under an existing NASA contract. In fact, the source said, the company will build a new, environmentally controlled building for the redesigned version of the old solid rocket booster for the shuttle.
J.R. Thompson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., told the Deseret News in early April that "Morton Thiokol will be NASA's sole source for boosters for another 10 years."
He also noted that between now and then the company is scheduled to deliver motors for 79 additional shuttle flights, plus conduct ground tests, at a total cost of about $3 billion.