U.S. is sued for halting commercial launches


Hughes Air craft Co. has filed a $288 million federal suiot over the U.S. government's 1986 decision to stop launching commercial satellites from space shuttles, company officials said.

The suit, filed yesterday in U.S. Claims Court in Washington, seeks compensation for additional costs borne by Hughes to find alternative ways of launching 10 communications satellites that were slated to go aboard the shuttle. Hughes' costs to launch the satellites have nearly doubled because of the contract's cancellation, company officials said.

"In some cases the launches were 100 percent more than what we contracted with NASA for," Donald O'Neal, a Hughes spokesman, said. "Up until the change in policy, Hughes Aircraft was the largest purchaser of launch capability on the shuttle."

The Reagan administration policy followed the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of space shuttle Challenger, said Dave Garrett, spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. After the disaster, the United States had no other means of launching vehicles into space for more than two years, leaving a large backlog of payloads to go aboard the shuttle, he said.

There was not enough room for NASA to include commercial vehicles aboard shuttles, he added.

"NASA did not ask [for the change]. It was set down by the administration," he said.

White House officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Hughes planned to spend $300 million and now must pay $588 million to launch the satellites, Mr. O'Neal said.

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