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Commercial Interests on Both Sides of NASA Constellation Issue

By | February 3, 2010
      [Satellite News 02-03-10] Manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences have released conflicting statements in response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to cancel NASA’s Orion project as part of its Constellation program, highlighting an inevitable battle between the resulting winners and losers in the commercial sector.
          “We are keenly disappointed in the Administration’s budget proposal,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement released Feb. 4. “Significant investment has already been made by the nation and private industry in Orion, which is human rated to provide a level of safety unmatched by any previous or currently proposed crewed vehicles. Nearly 4,000 people at more than 500 commercial companies and hundreds of small business suppliers across the country have worked diligently on the Orion project to support the nation’s human space flight efforts.”
          Orbital Sciences, one of NASA’s COTS contract winners eligible to receive some of the $200 million that Obama allocated for commercial industry alternatives in the fiscal year 2011 budget, praised the decision. "In its first time at bat, the Obama Administration hit the ball out of the park in setting this new direction for NASA. As a commercial partner to the space agency for over 25 years, Orbital is very excited about this new course for America’s civil space program,” Orbital Chairman and CEO David Thompson said in a statement.
          Despite the obvious political and financial lines drawn between the budget’s supporters and detractors, some companies seem to be reacting from both sides of the issue created by Obama’s decision.
          The decision to shift the U.S. space program’s reliance toward commercial entities was co-sponsored by a presidential space advisory panel created in 2009 and chaired by former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norman Augustine. The panel advised the president that, “allowing companies to build and launch their own rockets and spacecraft to carry American astronauts into orbit would save money and also free up NASA to focus on more ambitious, longer-term goals,” according to a White House statement. Lockheed Martin, like Orbital Sciences, qualifies to receive commercial funding, as it remains a leading commercial manufacturer for the U.S. space and military industry.
          The battle lines become even more vague as the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), with representatives from other NASA Orion partners such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin sitting on its board, released a statement supporting certain elements of the 2011 budget, without mentioning the NASA program cuts. The proposal “is a reasonable target that takes into account the very real demands that two ongoing wars make on our troops and the equipment that supports them. Even in today’s budget-reduction climate, it is extremely important that our nation stands firm behind those obligations,” AIA CEO Marion Blakey said in a Feb. 2 statement.
           However, in a previous statement on U.S. commercial launch indemnification issued in late January, Blakey said that U.S. commercial space industry would lose more jobs without government support. “As space launch capabilities have been developed by other nations our share of commercial launches has decreased significantly. Further loss of our commercial launch share could impact civil and national security payloads because the same U.S. companies also launch under government contracts.”
          While Orbital Sciences and fellow COTS winner SpaceX highlight what they believe are the job-creating and economy-stimulating qualities of the 2011 budget, Lockheed Martin hinted that it will take its fight to the political arena. “The President’s budget proposal will, of course, be reviewed by Congress and ultimately will require congressional approval. As the budget process moves forward, Lockheed Martin is committed to working with Congress, the Administration and NASA to ensure a safe, viable and robust space exploration program that does not cede U.S. leadership in space.”
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