Lockheed Martin Corp. on Friday said it plans to build a 1,200-employee base of operations in Houston if it were to win a hotly contested bid to design NASA's next human spaceflight vehicle.
The company is competing against a partnership of Northrop Grumman Corp. and the Boeing Co. to lead NASA's multibillion-dollar follow-on program to the space shuttle, called the Crew Exploration Vehicle. Proposals were due on Monday and NASA is expected to choose a contractor later this year.
The new vehicles, which are based on Apollo-like capsules launched on expendable rockets, are expected to fly to the international space station by 2014 and to the moon as early as 2018.
"The godhead is here in Houston," John Karas, Lockheed's vice president of space exploration, told a teleconference press briefing.
Karas said half of Lockheed Martin's planned 2,400-member CEV work force would be based near Johnson Space Center in Houston if the firm were awarded the contract. Lockheed previously announced it would add up to 400 jobs in Florida for vehicle testing and assembly at Kennedy Space Center.
Additional work sites are planned for Louisiana, where Lockheed currently builds the space shuttle's external fuel tanks; Alabama, which is home to NASA propulsion expertise at the Marshall Space Flight Center; and Mississippi, which is where the shuttle's main engines are tested.
Karas said that by clustering its CEV work force around NASA's current spaceflight centers, Lockheed would be in a better position to transition workers from the shuttle to the new program.
Northrop and Boeing have not announced any details of their bid for the CEV contract.
Karas also released a few details of Lockheed's plans for the new vehicle. The capsule would be based on the Lockheed-built capsule that was used to return samples of comet dust to Earth in January. The CEV would have the same heat shield and shape as the Stardust return capsule. It is being designed to land on the ground, rather than in the water like the spacecraft used in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs of the 1960s and early ’70s.
Key to Lockheed's proposal are packages of tax, employee training, work force retention and other incentives offered by state and local governments. Karas did not reveal details of Texas' package. Florida has proposed incentives worth more than $50 million but the state legislature has not yet voted on the issue.