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Lockheed Orion Contract Design Phase Extended Two Years

By | April 23, 2007

      But NASA Says Orion Still Flies In 2015

      NASA altered the Constellation program contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] so that design of the next-generation Orion crew exploration vehicle will be completed two years later, the space agency announced.

      Lockheed also will receive $385 million more than the original contract last summer envisioned. And production of a pressurized cargo container has been dropped from the initial design phase.

      However, the contract change also plans on cutting two years off the subsequent production of the Orion vehicle, so that Orion still will fly in March 2015, a NASA spokesman said.

      That means the long gap between retirement of the existing space shuttle fleet in 2010 and the beginning of the Orion-Ares replacement transport system won’t have to lengthen from five to seven years, the spokesman said.

      NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has said repeatedly that while he still supports the plan to retire space shuttles in 2010 because they are a decades-old technology, at the same time it is “unseemly” that the United States for half a decade should be without the means even to go to low Earth orbit without relying on Russia, other allies or commercial space ventures.

      The United States should retain its position as the premier spacefaring nation, he said.

      NASA awarded the Orion contract to Lockheed August 31, in a move that surprised some space analysts.

      At that time, the development portion of the contract was valued at $3.9 billion with a period of performance through December 2011.

      This contract modification, in the amount of $385 million, brings the total value to approximately $4.3 billion and adjusts the development period of performance through December 2013.

      The update is the result of a NASA request for engineering change proposal issued on December 15. Lockheed Martin’s proposal was received March 7. The contract modification was signed Friday.

      The updated contract contains three significant changes, NASA explained:

      • Two years have been added to the design phase.
      • Two test flights of the Orion launch abort system have been added.
      • Production of a pressurized cargo carrier for the International Space Station has been deleted from the initial design phase.

      NASA continues work to ensure a smooth transition from the space shuttle program to the Constellation program, the agency stated.

      This is demonstrated in a fourth element of the contract modification that provides for use of surplus raw materials, such as aluminum-lithium ingots now used in the construction of space shuttle fuel tanks, for Orion, according to NASA.

      “NASA and Lockheed have been working together as a team during the past six months to iron out many critical design and schedule details,” said Skip Hatfield, manager of the Orion project at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This contract update will synchronize our spending plan with the rest of the Constellation Program.”

      NASA stated that the contract change reflects continuing progress on Orion development, including program formulation and systems assessments addressing the rocket, ground infrastructure and all other elements necessary for a successful first launch. The period of performance now matches the evolving NASA budget landscape.

      “The Orion team has made some critical decisions that will maximize the performance and flexibility of this spacecraft,” said Jeff Hanley, Constellation manager at Johnson. “This spacecraft will be a cornerstone of America’s human exploration of the solar system by a new generation of explorers, and these changes and additional tests will ensure that it is robust enough to accomplish its missions.”

      Meanwhile, work progresses as planned on the contract. NASA and Lockheed Martin have completed the Orion systems requirements review and are moving toward a systems design review scheduled in August.

      The NASA spokesman explained that the Orion contract as awarded was divided into phases, or schedules, and Schedule A for design of Orion will now be two years longer, lasting through 2013, while Schedule B for production will be two years shorter, for a net no change in the program length.

      Separately, NASA will decide later this year the contractor for the Ares booster to launch Orion into space. A team led by The Boeing Co. [BA] is competing for the prize against a team led by Alliant Techsystems [TK]. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 16, 2007, page 1.)

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