Boeing is to supply the avionics for NASA's Ares I crew launch vehicle. The selection, initially worth $265 million, is the final major contract award for the Ares I, which will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle into low Earth orbit.

The company will support the NASA team designing the instrument unit, procure the hardware, and integrate the avionics on the Ares I upper stage. Final integration and checkout will take place at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

Boeing was selected in August to produce the upper stage for the Ares I. Alliant Techsystems is prime contractor for the launcher's first stage and Lockheed Martin is responsible for development of the Orion spacecraft.

                                                                                                                        © NASA

The initial avionics contract is for one ground-test instrument unit, three flight-test units and six production units for flights to the International Space Station. The first test flight is planned for 2012.

Boeing says the contact includes options for up to four additional avionics units per year between 2014 and 2016. Total potential value of the contract to the end of 2016 is almost $800 million.

The company has not yet selected suppliers of the avionics boxes and harnesses, but says it has received quotes from a large number of companies, including losing bidders in the instrument unit competition.

The avionics will be installed in an instrument unit ring located between the upper stage and the adapter joining Ares I to Orion. NASA will deliver the rings to Michoud, where Boeing will install and check out the avionics before delivering the instrument unit back to NASA.

The unit will then be integrated with the upper stage at Michoud and the completed assembly delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where the first and upper stages and Orion spacecraft will be stacked for launch.

NASA Ares I upper stage
                                                                                                                  © Boeing

NASA Ares I launch vehicle
                                                                                                                      © Boeing