NASA’s reduced budget for the troubled space station will cost Rocketdyne as much as $90 million in revenue next year, so the Canoga Park unit of Rockwell International has already started cutting about 200 jobs.
Based on budget projections for the federal space agency, Rocketdyne says it expects to receive $250 million to $300 million for its work on the space station in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That compares with $340 million for the current fiscal year.
In anticipation of the leaner budget, Rocketdyne has been trimming its engineering staff in recent weeks through layoffs and attrition. By next month, Rocketdyne’s space-station work force will be down to 900 from a peak of 1,100 earlier this summer, said George Hallinan, Rocketdyne’s vice president and program manager of the space station.
For Rocketdyne, the space station is critical because it derives a third of its $1 billion in annual revenue from the station work, which includes the design of solar ray batteries, switch gears and cabling equipment.
The rest of Rocketdyne’s revenue comes mainly from building the main engines for NASA’s space shuttles and engines for the Atlas and Delta rockets that launch commercial and military payloads into space.
Overall, Rocketdyne employs about 5,900 workers in Canoga Park, down from about 7,500 workers five years ago. Still, Rocketdyne has been one of the few relatively stable firms in the shrinking Southern California aerospace industry.
Rocketdyne has been designing and building an electrical power system for the space station since late 1987.
But the space station project faces a precarious future. Because the construction of the station is several years behind schedule and several billion dollars over its original budget, the project has lost much of its support from Congress.
This week the Senate is expected to vote in favor of that scaled-down station, which would fund the project for at least one more year.
Earlier this summer the House of Representatives narrowly approved a smaller and cheaper version of the station that was endorsed by President Clinton. The White House plan calls for a 27% reduction in funding for the space station program to $10.5 billion over five years, down from $14.4 billion. New plans for a redesigned station call for it to be completed in five years.
The space station would be an orbiting laboratory able to hold five astronauts for up to a month in space. It would help scientists study long-term effects of space travel on humans and do advanced scientific research in biotechnology and metallurgy.
But more uncertainties were injected into the project earlier this month when the United States and Russia signed an accord that endorses Russia’s participation in building the space station.
John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said Russia’s involvement could enhance political support for the faltering space station. At the same time, he said, Russian participation could mean less work for U.S. contractors.
“The political context and character of the program is at a crucial turning point,” Logsdon said. “But will there be less work for specific (U.S.) contractors? We have to figure out whether we can work with Russian hardware.”
All this has made Rocketdyne very nervous.
Rocketdyne’s Hallinan said it was too early to say whether the company would benefit from Russian participation. A government report on a joint U.S.-Russian space station is expected in November, he said.
In the meantime, he said, Rocketdyne’s space-station workers are unsettled. “They’re very sensitive to all the information they see,” Hallinan said.
Rocketdyne isn’t the only Southern California space-station contractor bracing for hard times.
McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s aerospace unit in Huntington Beach employs about 2,500 workers who make girder-like trusses and other structural components for the space station. Spokeswoman Anne McCauley said the company was planning for possible lower funding, but said there were no specific staffing actions to announce.
Concerning the Russians’ involvement, McCauley said, “If it’s going to cause us to take a major hit on jobs, we would like to ask the government to take a second look at that.”
Jim Keller, a spokesman for Boeing Corp., which was selected by NASA as the prime contractor to oversee the redesigned space station, said Boeing also has not yet made any staffing decisions, pending Congress’ action on the space station.
By being chosen recently as the prime contractor for the redesigned station, Keller said, Boeing might add some jobs to reflect its new role, thereby offsetting jobs the company might lose because of the station’s smaller budget.
“There probably will be reductions for all the contractors on the (space-station) program in order to meet the cost targets of the Administration,” Jim Noblitt, head of Boeing’s space division in Huntsville, Ala., said in a company newsletter.
Times staff writer James F. Peltz contributed to this story.