UTC unit moves to diversify as shuttle ends

The Space Shuttle Atlantis backdropped against the Earth prior to docking with the International Space Station, May 16, 2010. REUTERS/NASA

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. | Thu Apr 14, 2011 10:49am EDT
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is moving to diversify its business to reduce dependence on NASA amid an uncertain outlook for the U.S. space program, the company's president said on Wednesday.
Jim Maser, president of the United Technologies (UTX.N) unit that supplies the space shuttle's main engine, also reiterated that layoffs and supplier exits from space work could ramp up later this year if NASA doesn't soon unveil a successor program to the shuttle.

The shuttle program is set to end this year, and NASA is looking to free up funds to develop new spacecraft capable of space missions. Maser said the agency's silence on a successor plan was leaving industry suppliers uncertain.

"Our concern is that they're taking too long and this perishable intellectual capital is being put at risk," Maser said in an interview at the National Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs. "For the first time in our history, our major launch system is ending and we don't even know what the replacement is."

He said the industry could undergo "some structural changes" after the shuttle program ends this summer. "I think it could get very traumatic and damaging by the end of this year," Maser added.
Maser said Rocketdyne was looking to diversify its business portfolio by growing in missile defense, energy and solar power technology and other areas.

Maser said NASA accounts for 60 percent of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's revenue now, down from as much as 80 percent four years ago.

"We've been investing in our core products and technology but also in a diversification approach that we think is making for a healthier business," Maser said.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which has about 2,800 workers, has cut staff about 15 percent over the past year through voluntary retirements, layoffs and attrition, Maser said. Amid the shuttle program uncertainty, he added revenue at Rocketdyne will drop this year.

Maser said the management of parent United Technologies expected the Rocketdyne business to work its way through the current business cycle.
"I think that once this settles out, I had better have a good path back to growth," he added.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs, editing by Bernard Orr)

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