Sued For Compensation Over Use Of Alloy In Shuttle External
Boeing recently scored a big legal win, and a potentially even
greater payoff. Earlier this month, the American aerospace titan
won a patent-infringement claim filed against NASA regarding the
material used to construct external fuel tanks for the space
The Seattle Times reports Boeing sued the federal government in
2000, claiming NASA had improperly utilized an aluminum alloy
developed by the planemaker in the 1970s to construct
thinner-walled external fuel tanks, allowing NASA to carry greater
payloads onboard the shuttle. The first of those lighter tanks,
designed and built by Lockheed Martin, first flew in 1998.
Boeing first went to Lockheed for compensation; that company
told Boeing to take the matter up with the space agency.
In an opinion made public April 2, US Federal Claims Court Judge
Francis Allegra ruled Boeing should receive a 1.25 percent royalty
on the cost of each of the lighter-weight tanks actually flown by
NASA. Boeing had requested a 3.5 percent royalty against all the
tanks built, totalling $1.24 billion.
By contrast, the court's decision would grant Boeing a
relatively paltry $334.6 million. Both sides have until April 17 to
submit their final totals.
"While we prefer to avoid litigation, Boeing has an obligation
to its shareholders and employees to make good business decisions
that protect the company's valuable intellectual property -- and
sometimes litigation is prudent and necessary," said Boeing
spokesman Joseph Tedino. "Boeing is satisfied with the
A spokesman with the US Department of Justice said only that the
government is reviewing the court's opinion.
The lighter-weight external tanks proved problematic for the
space agency. The thinner alloy required larger amounts of
insulating foam to be attached to the outer skin of the tanks...
which led to the risk for larger sections "shedding" off the tanks
during launch. The February 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia has
been attributed to a chunk of foam impacting the leading edge of
one of the orbiter's wings, punching a hole in the shuttle's
fragile heat shield.
NASA has since redesigned the tanks for a third time,
to minimize the risk of foam shedding on