Reports last weekend about a trade agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union that would allow Soviet rockets to send U.S.-made satellites into space raises a question for U.S. rocket makers.
Tom Williams, spokesman for McDonnell Douglas Space Systems in Huntington Beach, said the company is disappointed that the Soviet Union will be able to compete for launches of U.S. satellites despite unfair advantages such as low labor expenses.
He said, however, that the company would welcome the agreement--its details have not been released--if it sets up a fair-pricing structure that all countries would abide by in bidding for satellite-launch contracts.
Williams said McDonnell Douglas is not categorically opposed to the commercialization of the Soviet space program, a development born of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's perestroika reforms.
Gerald C. Janicki, director of development operations at McDonnell Douglas, got some strong hints on a recent trip to Moscow that the Soviets want to sell more than their rockets for satellite launches.
When Janicki went to meet with officials at the Soviet space agency Glavkosmos last May, he got an old-fashioned capitalist sales pitch on how his company could use Soviet technology to build parts of the proposed U.S. space station, which is scheduled to be assembled in space in stages beginning in March, 1995.
McDonnell Douglas is one of five major contractors for the $37-billion station.
"Their objective was to sell their technology to help support their own space agency," Janicki said in an interview in June. "They want to initiate a joint venture of some kind."
Janicki said it appears that the Soviet Union's space technology lags behind that of the United States in some respects but that the company could learn from the Soviet scientists and technicians. It could, he said, possibly develop joint ventures with them in areas such as space construction and understanding the effects on humans' spending prolonged periods in space.
Janicki said that no deals are expected in the near term but that McDonnell Douglas officials expect to return to the Soviet Union in late August to sign an agreement informing both countries' governments that McDonnell Douglas may be interested in acquiring several technologies from the Soviet space agency.