From now on, when NASA's astronauts want to phone home, they'll have to do it through federal contracting giant Lockheed Martin. The firm, which already maintains NASA space shuttles in a joint venture with Boeing North America, has won a $3.4 billion, five-year contract to manage all NASA's communications, data collection and telemetry for human space flights, satellites and planetary exploration missions.
The contract consolidates under Lockheed the work previously done by five NASA centers. It's one of the largest information technology pacts ever inked by a federal agency and could set the tone for other agencies considering consolidating operations.
Part of the plan is for Lockheed to spin off to the private sector parts of the communications system in order to cut the costs of future space missions. NASA also expects Lockheed to "reduce overlap, eliminate duplication, and increase efficiency by streamlining service delivery," according to an agency press release about the new contract.
Lockheed was NASA's second-ranked contractor in Government Executive's rankings of the top federal contractors for 1997. The company took in $1.9 billion from the agency-nearly 17 percent of NASA's total prime contracting dollars. Boeing held first place with $3 billion in contracts, 27 percent of the total.
In addition to its shuttle and communications ventures with NASA, Lockheed also is developing a next-generation reusable launch vehicle known as Venturestar. The hope is that Venturestar-a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that takes off and lands without a rocket to boost it-will be cheap enough for the private sector to build and operate as a replacement for NASA's aging shuttle fleet.
Lockheed, which put up $220 million of its own funds for the project, along with $1 billion from NASA, is likely to be a prime candidate for building Venturestar, though its design will be made available to other firms.