November 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 7 
Integrated Defense Systems

On the same side

On the same side

How Boeing-suppliers team played a role in Space Shuttle's success


It might be hard for the average person to grasp the complexities that permit the Space Shuttle to fly. For Boeing NASA Systems, however, it's quite simple: Teamwork—specifically, the teamwork of Boeing and its supplier partners for NASA.

Since the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy in February 2003, NASA and the industry were determined to return the shuttle to flight and restore public confidence in safe space flight. NASA's Return to Flight mission, STS-114, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery this summer showcased the importance of Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems supplier strategy, where targeting best-in-industry suppliers and forming close partnerships with them gives Boeing a competitive edge. 

For Return to Flight, Boeing—a major subcontractor to the United Space Alliance in the Shuttle program—partnered with more than 150 suppliers to help achieve all program requirements. NASA has strict mission-critical quality, process and safety requirements to certify flight readiness. "The future of NASA's Human Space Flight program rode on a successful STS-114 mission," said Russ Carroll, Boeing NASA Systems director of Supplier Management and Procurement. "This demanded that we select proven suppliers to meet our customer and mission requirements."

Meet the partners

Space Shuttle Discovery has more than 2.5 million parts. For Boeing's goal to meet customer NASA's Return to Flight needs, it partnered with more than 150 suppliers to help achieve all program, mission-critical requirements. Profiled below are two Shuttle supplier-partners, Curtiss-Wright Controls Inc. and Ellanef Manufacturing Corp., along with their Shuttle contributions.

Curtiss-Wright Controls

Curtiss-Wright Controls Inc., the Charlotte, N.C.-based motion-control segment of Curtiss-Wright Corporation, provides highly engineered motion-control components and subsystems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications. A long-time Boeing supplier, it provided numerous flight-critical components for the historic Space Shuttle Discovery's return to flight.

It designed, developed and manufactured the electromechanical brakes and motor modules that operate the joints and end-effectors of the shuttle's and the International Space Station's robotic arms. It also provided payload bay door-drive systems, actuators for deployable radiators mounted inside the payload bay doors, and the Manipulator Positioning Mechanism Rotary Actuator, whose robotic arm capabilities enable in-orbit tile inspection on the shuttle's underside.

"As nervous as everyone was during the lift off of the Space Shuttle Discovery, it was really exciting to Curtiss-Wright and its employees because we had a little piece of history in the making," said Dave Adams, president of Curtiss-Wright Controls. "Because of our accomplishments and expertise in the motion-control market, Curtiss-Wright prides itself as being a key supplier to Boeing and looks forward to continuing this strategic partnership in the future."

Ellanef Manufacturing Corporation

Ellanef Manufacturing Corporation, based in Corona, N.Y., is part of Magellan Aerospace Corporation, which designs, engineers and manufactures space and defense systems. Ellanef was selected as a supplier to produce Manipulator Retention Latch Actuators, critical to securing the boom in the Space Shuttle Discovery's payload bay.

Ellanef had not produced comparable hardware for more than 20 years. So before production could begin, it conducted an extensive review of all engineering drawings, specifications and work instructions. Preparing new documentation for the manufacturing, assembly and testing for the actuators was an enormous but necessary undertaking to meet NASA's specific Return to Flight requirements. When Boeing partnered with Ellanef for Return to Flight, many Ellanef employees who worked on the original actuator 20 years ago actually still were at the company to assist with the documents for the 2005 mission.

"The exacting standards in design and workmanship required for hardware of this type is something that we don't only do well, but that we thoroughly enjoy," said Henry David, vice president and general manager of Ellanef. "Our participation in Return to Flight has been nothing short of gratifying. Having been the supplier of record for over 32 Electro-Mechanical Actuators for the Shuttle is a great source of pride for our employees and the company."
Over the years, Boeing NASA Systems has developed a certified supplier base with extensive Shuttle experience.

"Just as Boeing puts a premium on workforce diversity, suppliers add to this diversity and make the whole program more innovative and adaptable," said Mike Elsperman, Boeing Space Shuttle Program chief of staff. "Their unique perspectives and ideas ultimately produce positive business results and a healthier and stronger program."

Why does Boeing, with its depth of employee technical expertise, turn to outside companies to accomplish customer mission requirements? "As a company, we've made a conscious decision to move up the value chain offering best-of-industry solutions to our customers," said Norma Clayton, IDS vice president, Supplier Management and Procurement. "The way we do this is by focusing on what we do best—product development and design, technology insertion and systems integration. We partner with suppliers whose capabilities complement ours, which creates best-value solutions and allows Boeing and its suppliers to expand and grow their markets."

Most Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations focused on a safer vehicle and further elimination of risk from flying debris. Boeing and its suppliers addressed key CAIB expectations, making mission-specified modifications and improvements, including changes to the external tank, additional debris analysis, on-orbit tile repair testing and on-orbit damage inspection of the Thermal Protection System. In addition, the Orbiter Boom Sensor System was developed to allow the shuttle to inspect itself for damage while in orbit. Also, cameras were added for more on-orbit visual inspections and assessments.

Curtiss-Wright Controls Inc., the Charlotte, N.C.–based motion-control segment of Curtiss-Wright Corp. and a long-time Boeing supplier, provided numerous flight-critical components for Discovery. Among its contributions: the Manipulator Positioning Mechanism Rotary Actuator, whose robotic arm capabilities enable on-orbit tile inspection on the shuttle's underside.

"During the liftoff of Discovery, it was really exciting to Curtiss-Wright and its employees, because we had a little piece of history in the making," said Dave Adams, Curtiss-Wright Controls president.

"The combined team that included Boeing, NASA, contractors and our partners all share a common goal to send our best and brightest to explore the wonders of space and to bring them home safely," Carroll said. "This mission accomplished our goal."


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