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Lockheed Martin to get $163M from NASA to keep Orion work going

By Greg Avery, Denver Business Journal
 
NASA is paying $163 million to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. to keep the company from halting working on the Orion space capsule amid budget uncertainty.

The Littleton-based division of Lockheed Martin Corp. is overseeing development of the capsule, which has been intended to replace the space shuttle as the nation’s manned spacecraft.

Earlier this year, NASA canceled the Constellation program — a pair of new rockets, a lunar lander and the Orion capsule — in its fiscal year 2011 budget. The agency decided to hold onto Orion, however, and use it as a lifeboat for the International Space Station.

But two months after President Barack Obama announced the new mission for Orion, its funding future hasn’t been clarified.

NASA, in the past two weeks, has found $80 million in payment it will accelerate to Lockheed Martin under its existing contract, and then it added another $83 million to the contract.

NASA worried Lockheed Martin would halt Orion this week without the money, said NASA spokesman Michael Braukus.

“They were threatening to stop work,” he said.

Lockheed Martin representatives did not return calls Tuesday.

The $163 million is presumed to keep Lockheed working on Orion through Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year, Braukus said.

Some Constellation contractors are fighting NASA’s decision to make them cover the cost of canceling their projects. Lockheed Martin and Utah-based rocket maker Alliant TechSystems Inc., or ATK, have estimated wind-down costs of $300 million and $500 million, respectively, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, politicians in Colorado, Texas, Florida and other space centers are trying to restore Constellation to NASA’s budget for fiscal 2011 and preserve thousands of jobs connected to the four-year-old program.

Last week, Lockheed Martin said it is trying to reassign 300 employees from the Orion project over the next month. It expects it will have to lay off some of them. Lockheed also plans to let go 300 Orion sub-contractors.

It’s not clear whether the new NASA money will alter Lockheed’s plan. The stripped-down Orion mission is presumed to require a less complex capsule and thus employ fewer workers than when it was being built for trips to the moon and, eventually, Mars.