Eleven contractors, including Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda and Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, are meeting todaywith NASA officials to present ideas for developing the transportation systems that will carry humans once again to the moon and eventually to Mars.
The companies won NASA contracts Sept. 1 to help develop the architecture for Project Constellation, NASA's ambitious program to fulfill President Bush's vision for space exploration. The president's directive, issued Jan. 14, calls for returning Americans to the moon by 2020 in preparation for a landing on Mars.
Lockheed Martin, Orbital Science and six of the other companies won concept exploration and refinement contracts worth up to $6 million each. The other six are Andrews Space Inc. of Seattle; Boeing Co. of Chicago; Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.; Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles; Schafer Corp. of Chelmsford, Mass.; and Transformation Space Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif.
Three smaller contracts for up to $2 million each went to: Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.; Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego; and Spacehab Corp. of Webster, Tex.
All 11 companies will develop ideas for the systems architecture required to send astronauts into space, including human and robotic space transportation systems, launch vehicles, and related in-space and lunar infrastructure. The companies with larger contracts also will sketch out a crew exploration vehicle, the first transportation system in Project Constellation's architecture.
During today's meetings with NASA officials, contractors will be allowed to sit in on the others' presentations to hear their ideas.
Mike Coats, vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and a former NASA astronaut, said the brainstorming could produce a system of multiple vehicles. "NASA has been careful not to tell contractors what they want," he said. "They're looking for new ideas."
Although much is already known about sending astronauts to the moon, Project Constellation represents uncharted territory. NASA intends to establish an extended human presence on the moon and learn what will be required to explore Mars.
"We haven't really explored the moon," Coats said. "We landed on it six times but never really got far from the spots where we landed. If we're going to Mars, we need to take advantage of whatever resources are there, so we should practice on the moon. Once we fire engines to Mars, we're talking about at least a year roundtrip and probably more."
The study contracts are a prelude to a request for proposals expected in the first quarter of 2005. NASA plans to hire two teams to work on the exploration vehicle, which could be demonstrated in 2008 and operational in 2014, Coats said.
Brad Grimes is a staff writer with Washington Technology. For more details on this and other technology contracts, go to www.washingtontechnology.com.