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LOCKHEED GETS NASA CONTRACT.

Byline: JIM SKEEN Staff Writer

PALMDALE -- Lockheed Martin won a multibillion-dollar contract to design and build the nation's next spaceship, which officials hope will bring subcontracts to California in addition to research work at Edwards Air Force Base.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected Lockheed Martin over a team of Northrop Grumman and Boeing to design and build Orion, a spacecraft that will replace the space shuttle and is to be a keystone for the nation's efforts to return astronauts to the moon.

``We are honored by the trust that NASA has placed in the Lockheed Martin team for this historic and vital step forward in human space exploration,'' said Bob Stevens, chairman of the board and president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp.

``Our entire team is fully committed to supporting NASA as we join together to help make the vision for space exploration a reality.''

The first phase, which runs through September 2013, will involve the development, production and flight testing of two Orion craft, one to transport astronauts and another for cargo. NASA has budgeted $3.9 billion for that phase.

Lockheed Martin will serve as prime contractor and will lead a team that includes Honeywell, Orbital Sciences Corp., United Space Alliance and Hamilton Sundstrand.

NASA officials declined to state what separated the two proposals to build the spacecraft, saying they had not yet debriefed the contractor teams. NASA officials indicated that both proposals called for first flights before the planned 2014 date but declined to state how early Lockheed Martin indicated it might be able to fly the spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin plans to conduct most of the spacecraft work in the South, basing its program office in Houston, building major components at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and conducting final assembly work in Florida. To help lure work to Florida, that state's government put up an incentive package valued at $45.5 million.

State officials are hopeful the company will provide opportunities through subcontracts for work to be done in California.

``As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin will subcontract with many California companies and organizations,'' said Andrea Seastrand, executive director of the California Space Authority. ``These subcontracts will significantly enhance the space enterprise community within California.''

There is no significant work from the project planned for Lockheed Martin's Palmdale facility. Lockheed spokeswoman Dianne Knippel noted, however, the company's advanced products division, referred to as the Skunk Works, conducts work across the corporation and could be called on for Orion.

``You can expect in the future there would be some opportunities,'' Knippel said.

At least some work will be done in the Antelope Valley. The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base will oversee tests of a system to safely abort a flight if problems develop at launch.

The abort system will contain a solid-rocket booster that will sit atop the spacecraft at launch. During an emergency, the abort-system rocket would pull the crew module up and away. Then the module's parachute system would deploy to give the spacecraft a soft landing.

The Dryden effort will be modeled after a similar one, Little Joe 2, used in the early 1960s to develop an abort system for the Apollo program.

At Dryden, engineers will use full-scale mockups to work out how components will fit together and how the mechanics of the tests will be done. As in the Little Joe 2 program, actual flight testing will be done at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Orion will transport up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. Agency officials said they want the spacecraft to begin conducting missions no later than 2014 -- and the closer the better to the planned 2010 retirement of the space shuttle fleet.

The spacecraft will also be part of the effort to return astronauts to the moon. The new moon mission plan, referred by NASA officials as ``Apollo on steroids,'' calls for missions to begin in 2018.

The spacecraft will take four astronauts on the moon's surface, instead of the two in Apollo days.

``Eventually we will work up to having an outpost on the moon where we can stay for six months,'' said Scott ``Doc'' Horowitz, NASA's associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. ``Space is no longer going to be a destination we visit briefly. We're going to learn to live off the land like the pioneers did.''

The contractor selection occurred despite objections from the General Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm. In a report to Congress, the GAO had argued the contractor selection is occurring well before NASA has a preliminary design and firmer cost estimates for the spacecraft's development.

The GAO report said NASA should hold off on making a long-term commitment to a contractor until after the preliminary design review, sched``The contract is arranged in such a way where the government has options,'' Horowitz, a former astronaut and Edwards test pilot, said. ``The cost to the government to continue without a contractor would greatly increase the cost of the program.''

NASA officials said it would have cost the agency $1 billion for each team had they opted to carry them through preliminary design work.

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com

(661) 267-5743
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:878
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