McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in Huntington Beach has been awarded a $480.6-million contract to develop and test a satellite-launched, particle beam weapons system for the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called "Star Wars" project.
The contract, expected to result in the hiring of at least 200 additional workers at the company's sprawling Orange County facility over the next few years, calls for McDonnell Douglas to build three satellites and the particle beam accelerator, launch them from NASA's space shuttle and then conduct a test of the entire apparatus over several days.
The test, which will be classified, is scheduled for the early 1990s.
McDonnell Douglas had performed early development work on the particle beam system and will continue its operations under the new contract, which it won in a competition with Lockheed's space facility in Sunnyvale, near San Jose.
The test is expected to be the first space-based evaluation of a neutral particle beam, an energy charge that travels at near the speed of light and deposits its energy deep within a target, causing extensive internal damage.
The Air Force said the neutral particle beam system is being tested in space, rather than on the ground, because the beams gather momentum and size over long distances that are best suited to space. The agency said the test will determine how far into the atmosphere the beam can effectively penetrate.
McDonnell Douglas will build three satellites--the launch vehicle, the target and a detector--and a 75-by-15-foot beam accelerator, which will produce a 50-million-electron-volt neutral hydrogen beam.
The company Monday could not offer precise estimates of the number of employees needed to complete the contract work in Huntington Beach. However, last year, when the company received a $330-million contract to develop another Star Wars missile system, it hired 200 new workers.