Lockheed Martin is poised to compete for some $8 billion or more annually in work that NASA will award in coming years, including the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) program, the company's space business executives said.
Competition for the upcoming CEV contract award pits Lockheed Martin against a team of Northrop Grumman as prime contractor and Boeing as main partner.
While NASA faces tight budget constraints, adequate monies remain to press forward with a vision of space exploration that would include the first voyages beyond low-Earth orbit in many years, according to John Karas, Lockheed Martin's vice president for space exploration.
"It's going to be a challenging budget," Karas said, according to sister publication Defense Daily. But "we think there's [sufficient] money in there to continue the programs."
As that move to journey beyond low-Earth orbit takes shape, there could be rich opportunities for Lockheed Martin, a maker of major payload lifters, Karas added. "When we go back to the moon, most of the money is in lift," he said at a briefing for defense journalists at the National Press Club.
Previously, some space programs have been marred by cost overruns and schedule deadlines missed. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that cannot be permitted to continue in a time of tight budgets, where every dollar counts.
Griffin's pronouncement drew agreement from James Crocker, Lockheed Martin's vice president for civil space programs, who said three factors are vital if costs are to be contained: There must be good execution of programs by contractors, with costs controlled. Meanwhile, NASA must stabilize its requirements, and not frequently change its criteria for programs. Finally, the federal government needs to supply stable and predictable funding for space programs. Otherwise, Crocker warned, the net result can be soaring prices for programs.
For example, Crocker said, if $1 is cut from the NASA budget, and a program therefore suffers delays or distortions, the ultimate cost of getting the program back on track in later years may be $2 or even $3, more than eliminating any savings.
"If any one of those goes out of balance or control," it can create a long-term fiscal bind, he said.
Crocker's comments come as NASA is considering cutting funds for its science and research programs so as to provide money for the space exploration programs including new vehicles to take crews on safaris into the solar system.
Crocker stressed that there has been progress in controlling costs, which may have gone unheralded. For example, he said, if one compares the cost of Viking landing on Mars years ago with the estimated cost of landing Phoenix on Mars, one sees "an order of magnitude reduction" in funds spent.
Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor and a leader in space programs, also is committed to continuing and expanding its global partnerships on space programs with companies overseas, company officials said.
For example, Lockheed has done business for 15 years in Russia, a nation that is also interested in heading toward the moon, Karas said, adding that "relationships are pretty good" between Lockheed and the great space power of Europe.
Briefers also assessed the benefits that will flow to space explorers if water is found on Mars, which is seen likely to be found a few feet beneath the barren Martian surface.
Karas ticked off the bonanza that would flow from finding water on the red planet: "If you've got water, you've got drinking water. You've got air [because water contains oxygen]. And you've got rocket propellant." Water also contains flammable hydrogen. Breaking down water into oxygen and hydrogen yields both a fuel, hydrogen, and the oxygen with which to burn it efficiently.
-- Dave Ahearn