The Littleton-based division of the defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. said the move is necessary after NASA decided contractors should bear the costs of winding down the canceled Constellation space program, of which Orion was a part.
How many positions will be affected mean locally isn’t clear.
The company said it will try to find other work for its employees shifted off the Orion project, but it doesn’t expect there will be positions for all of them.
“Some layoffs will be inevitable, but we don’t know exactly how many at this time. Lockheed Martin is working diligently to place as many employees as possible with other opportunities within the company in order to retain its talented and skilled workforce,” the company said in a message Friday.
It’s the first confirmation of numbers leaked recently in emails about the effects of NASA changing its mind about Constellation.
NASA, as part of the Obama administration budget, canceled the Constellation program that was created in 2006 to build Ares rockets and the Orion crew capsule. The rockets and space ship were meant to replace the space shuttle fleet, return U.S astronauts to the moon and eventually take them to Mars.
President Barack Obama in April gave Orion a reprieve and made it the one piece of Constellation to continue. It will be used as an escape craft for the International Space Station, instead of as an interplanetary vessel as originally planned.
Bob Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO, expressed optimism in remarks at the company media event in Crystal City, Va. on Thursday.
“We believe this new capsule will be launched within the next few years and would leverage the significant technology advances that our team achieved since the original Orion contract award,” Stevens said. “We’re very much looking forward to working through the details of the crew rescue vehicle with NASA and continuing our work on the human space flight program through the Orion contract.”
NASA has yet to unveil what kind of funding the new mission for Orion carries with it.
And the agency also recently informed Constellation contractors that NASA wouldn’t pay costs associated with halting the program.
That left Lockheed Martin to cut work hours, reduce purchasing and make other adjustment to keep Orion going on its remaining fiscal 2010 funding.
Lockheed Martin’s Orion project, managed from Houston, employs about 3,500 people, including subcontractors working for major aerospace companies such as Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Hamilton Sundstrand, Honeywell, and United Space Alliance. More 500 smaller contractors in 28 states also work on the project.
The biggest concentrations of Orion workers are in the Denver area, Houston, New Orleans and Cape Canaveral