Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Requiem for a Heavyweight Rocketdyne


The publicly held American multinational United Technologies Corporation (UTC) is now "in negotiations with one buyer to sell storied rocket engine maker Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and a deal may soon be announced," according to the June 11th, 2012 LA Daily News article "Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne about to be sold to private-investor group."

 The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne space shuttle main engines from Endeavour's and Atlantis' final missions in the Engine Shop at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in November 2011.

As outlined in the May 22nd, 2012 Reuters article "United Tech says Goodrich deal to close in July," the Rocketdyne subsidiary was always expected to be sold by UTC, along with the industrial arm of the Hamilton Sundstrand division, and the Clipper Windpower operation, in order to fund the $16.5 billion UTC takeover of aircraft components manufacturer Goodrich Corporation.

But a private investment deal could end up giving the historic company (originally formed after the second world war to study the German V-2 missile and adapt its engine to US requirements)  new capabilities and perhaps even the potential to compete in the international marketplace against privately held Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

Mike Griffin
Mike Griffin.
A June 11th, 2012 post on the NASA Watch under the title "Rocketdyne Sold - Griffin as New CEO?" even states that the new owners, working through a group organized by the Chase Bank, have hired ex-NASA Director Michael D. Griffin as the new Rocketdyne CEO.

All of which suggests the possibility of one final hurrah for the once promising and innovative company which simply grew too old and dependent on fixed price government contracts.

Which kinda sounds like the plot of the 1956 teleplay "Requiem for a Heavyweight." Written by Rod Serling (who later went on to create "The Twilight Zone"), the teleplay focused on Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, a once-promising but now washed-up boxer who faces the end of his career after being savagely defeated by a younger, and more capable foe.

Boxing is all "Mountain" McClintock has ever known and he's both terrified of trying something new and intensely loyal to the coach who has nurtured him from his youth, but also bets against him (much like the US government has hedged its bets once or twice with Rocketdyne in its various incarnations).

Of course, analogies rarely transfer directly to the real world.

Rocketdyne possesses serious political connections and legacy assets in the intellectual property surrounding the RL10 rocket engines, the RS-68 first stage engine for the Delta IV, the RS-25 engines used as the space shuttle main engine and quite a few other programs and projects.

And no one expects that the new owners will be "punch drunk."

Expect the official announcement of the sale and the new management team to be made over the next month.

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