The two main contractors on the space shuttle program, Rockwell International Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., announced a joint venture Wednesday that will compete to take over the program’s daily operations from NASA.
The companies also predicted that if their venture wins the award, there will probably be unspecified job cuts at their various shuttle divisions, which have sites in Southern California.
However, the bulk of the companies’ 20,000 shuttle workers are at Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“I would expect that [job reduction] to happen across the board,” Kent M. Black, a Rockwell executive vice president and co-chief operating officer, told reporters. He declined to speculate on the size or timing of the cuts.
The venture is in response to a March announcement by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that it planned to turn over the shuttle program’s day-to-day activities to a single private firm.
NASA, facing budget pressures in Congress, hopes to slash $1 billion from its $3-billion annual operating budget by 2000, in large part by shifting the shuttles’ primary manufacturing and operating needs to one contractor.
Rockwell and Lockheed Martin said they formed a 50-50 joint venture, called United Space Alliance, to bid for the job. NASA spokesman Ed Campion said it’s not yet known when the agency will select the winner.
No other companies have yet announced plans to vie for the work, Campion said, although it’s clear that Rockwell and Lockheed Martin are the natural candidates for the job.
Rockwell, based in Seal Beach, built the shuttle orbiters in Downey and Palmdale and their main engines in Canoga Park, and it provides various operating tasks at Johnson Space Center, including astronaut training. The Palmdale operation also does heavy maintenance and modifications on the shuttles.
Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Md., performs several tasks at Kennedy Space Center to prepare the shuttles for launches and landings, along with engineering support at Johnson Space Center. The company also builds the shuttles’ external fuel tanks.
“We would expect all [of our] locations over time to probably be reduced in employment because that’s the name of the game,” Black said. Their mandate is to maintain the program’s performance “but do it at a lower cost.”
Taking over the shuttle program’s daily operations would leave NASA primarily with final oversight of the program and its safety, along with research and development efforts, Black said. It’s also expected that the shuttles’ launch director would remain a NASA employee.