NASA has assigned each of its 10 regional field centers a specific role in the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and the related launcher the U.S. space agency hopes to have in service no later than 2014.

“This is the first wave of center assignments for getting Constellation rolling,” said Jeff Hanley, NASA’s Constellation program manager. Constellation is NASA’s name for the multibillion-dollar effort to build the CEV, launchers and landing spacecraft needed to put U.S. astronauts on the Moon by 2020.

After announcing the new roles for each center June 5, NASA officials declined to discuss the job impacts the assignments entail, saying such details would have to wait until after the CEV prime contract is awarded later this year.

NASA expects to select a prime contractor in late August or early September to design and build the CEV with a lot of help from its field centers. Lockheed Martin is competing against the team of Northrop Grumman and Boeing to be the prime contractor for the project.

The agency also has initiated a number of contracts in recent months in order to get industry and its field centers working on the development of the Crew Launch Vehicle, a largely expendable rocket with a main stage derived from the space shuttle’s solid-rocket booster and an upper stage based on the Apollo-era J-2 engine.

Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, as expected, was assigned responsibility for developing the CEV Service Module that will accommodate the six-person capsule’s main propulsion system. Glenn also was assigned responsibility for a CEV adapter needed to mate the spacecraft to its launcher. Ohio lawmakers were quick to praise Glenn’s high-profile assignment. Republican Sen. George Voinovich said in a statement that the CEV-related tasks would help keep Glenn busy for years to come and likely have a significant work-force impact.

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will lead the early work on the CEV’s thermal protection system, helping NASA select the heat shields that will be used to keep the capsule from burning up during its return trip through the Earth’s atmosphere. Ames also was given new responsibilities in meeting the information technology needs of NASA’s Constellation program.

Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., has been assigned lead responsibility for flight testing the CEV’s launch abort system, a safety feature designed to separate the CEV from its booster in the event of a launch emergency. Handley said Dryden was chosen for its expertise in conducting flight tests.

Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., will help design the CEV launch abort system. Specifically, Langley engineers will oversee and conduct independent analysis of the CEV prime contractor’s development of a launch abort system. Overall responsibility for the CEV remains at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., is leading development of the Crew Launch Vehicle, with Stennis Space Center in Mississippi responsible for testing engines for both the crew launcher and an unmanned heavy-lift launcher the agency hopes to get started around the end of the decade.

Marshall also has picked up in recent weeks responsibility for managing the agency’s lunar robotics program. Scott Horowitz, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems, said putting Marshall in charge of the Lunar Precursor and Robotics Program will enable greater synergy between some of NASA’s early lunar robotics missions and development of the descent stage for a lunar lander that will carry astronauts and unmanned payloads, such as power plants, habitats and the like, to the surface of the Moon.

Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, the chosen launch site for the CEV, will host NASA’s Ground Operations Project, helping the agency plan and prepare for launching and operating the space shuttle’s successor.

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will help the Constellation Program by doing communications, navigation and avionics work.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Pasadena, Calif.-based center responsible for all of the agency’s robotic landers of late, will lend its expertise in robotic surface operations to NASA’s human exploration efforts and help lead the Constellation Program’s systems engineering and integration software and avionics team along with Goddard.