The administration's quest for a small privately developed orbiting space facility moved forward yesterday with an announcement of NASA's general requirements.
NASA will seek offers for a facility of "approximately 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet of pressurizeable volume" that can operate in an automated, free-flying mode for four to six months at a time.
It would be tended two or three times a year by shuttle astronauts and should provide them a "shirt-sleeve environment."
Space Industries of Houston, founded by former NASA engineering official Maxim Faget, is the only company that has been marketing such a facility.
Officials of Rockwell International and McDonnell Douglas said yesterday they are considering entering the competition, and sources say that Fairchild Industries has also made tentative inquiries.
The facility is required "in order to encourage United States private sector involvement in microgravity research and manufacturing, and ... as a major element of the president's announced commercial space initiative," the announcement said.
Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration initially supported the concept of the small facility but balked in recent months when other administration officials proposed that they commit up to $700 million for leasing the facility over a five-year period. They warned that the funding likely would come out of the budget intended for the larger manned space station and further delay that struggling program.
After an internal dispute, the administration decided early this month to open the contract for competitive bidding rather than award it to Space Industries.
A draft of the more-detailed request for proposals could go out within two weeks, according to NASA external relations official Kenneth S. Pedersen. The agency wants to pick a winner by the end of July and have the facility operational by the end of fiscal 1993.
"We're assuming everybody and his brother is going to come after us," said Space Industries Vice President James Calaway, whose company until this month has had the field to itself.
"But they'll have a lot of work to do. They'd better be prepared to fight, because we're going after it with everything we've got."