April 12, 2010 / 10:38 PM / 9 years ago

Lockheed sees job cuts if Orion canceled

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - The head of Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) space systems business said on Monday that job losses could result if Congress backed the Obama administration’s proposal to kill the Orion spacecraft program.

President Barack Obama’s February 1 budget proposal would cancel NASA’s Constellation program to launch astronauts into orbit and return Americans to the moon.

Plans call for the end of the program’s Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares rockets, even as NASA’s overall funding rises to $19 billion in fiscal 2011 with an emphasis on science and less spent on space exploration.

Joanne Maguire, executive vice president for Lockheed’s space business, said she feared job cuts would result should the proposal to cancel Orion be backed by Congress. Lockheed is the prime contractor to NASA for the program.

“I think there’ll be some substantial dislocation,” she told Reuters in an interview at the National Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We’ll look to place as many of those people as we can but if we’re in the process of terminating a contract that employs literally thousands of people across the country ... you don’t just put them to work on a contract the next day without a hiccup.”

Maguire said Lockheed has received lots of congressional support for continuing the program, and added the Obama termination plans came as a surprise.

“We were more than a little bit taken aback and certainly disappointed with the rather abrupt change in course announced by the administration for a lot of reasons,” Maguire said.

Obama’s plans call for spending billions in coming years to support commercial spacecraft and pursue new technologies to explore the solar system.

“Orion has been designed to be a very effective crew transport vehicle to the space station and we have some real reservations about whether such a mission should be undertaken on a strictly commercial basis,” Maguire added.

For now, Lockheed is proceeding with development on the Orion program. Maguire said the defense contractor has so far received no correspondence or contractual direction from NASA to slow or stop work on the Orion program.

She said Orion accounted for a substantial portion of volume for the sales of Lockheed’s space systems business, which had about $8.7 billion in sales last year.

Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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