WASHINGTON — NASA intends to add $375 million to Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ $6.4 billion Orion space capsule contract so that the company can procure a Delta 4 rocket to power a 2014 test flight of the next-generation crew vehicle.

In a procurement notice posted online Jan. 6, NASA said it intends to make a sole source award to Lockheed Martin for Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 by modifying the Denver-based company’s existing contract to build Orion, a craft also known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). Lockheed, won the Orion contract in 2006 as part of the now-canceled Constellation Moon- destination program.

NASA spokesman Michael Braukus, in response to a Space News email query, said that Lockheed had been cleared by the agency to begin work on ETF-1 as of Dec. 21.

“Due to the urgency of the work, Lockheed was issued an Undefinitized Contract Action by NASA on December 21, 2011 to start work,” Braukus wrote in a Jan. 11 email. “A formal detailed contract modification proposal will be provided by Lockheed, and the final negotiated modification and price settlement is anticipated by summer, 2012.”

Braukus declined to comment further on the project’s schedule, or say what work had already been completed. He did note that Lockheed’s performance and payment milestones would be included in the final contract modification.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Joan Underwood did not reply to a request for comment.

Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) also expressed interest in Exploration Test Flight-1, according to NASA’s Jan. 6 notice, but both companies were turned down.

Boeing and SpaceX, NASA wrote, “proposed capabilities which focused primarily on meeting one aspect of the requirement of NASA’s EFT-1 effort … a launch vehicle. However, neither company addressed the complete requirements for the end-to-end EFT-1 effort.”

Boeing spokeswoman Susan Wells referred requests for comment about the award to NASA. SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

NASA says it needs data from the 2014 test flight, in which Orion will be sent into orbit and brought back down to Earth at speeds approaching those that would occur during return from lunar space, in order to safely conduct the spacecraft’s first mission to the Moon in 2017. Key components to be tested include the craft’s heat-shield and landing parachutes.

Lockheed, NASA said “is the only source that has the in-depth understanding of the Orion spacecraft which is necessary for the Government’s technical and schedule requirements to obtain the Orion MPCV flight test data in early 2014.”

Subsequent Orion missions will be launched by Orion’s companion rocket, the congressionally mandated Space Launch System. NASA’s current plan, announced in September, is to send an empty Orion spacecraft around the Moon and back in 2017 and then repeat the feat in 2021 with a crewed capsule.

NASA announced the Exploration Test Flight-1 effort in November. Michael Coats, director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, confirmed shortly after the announcement that NASA wanted to use a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket for the test flight.

Lockheed has long planned to conduct the first Orion test flight on a Delta 4. The company disclosed in 2010 that it had put down a deposit with United Launch Alliance for such a rocket. At the time, Lockheed was urging NASA to conduct the test flight in 2013.

United Launch Alliance, formed in 2005, is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed.

Orion was rechristened as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which also directed NASA to develop the heavy-lift Space Launch System using Constellation-era contracts.



NASA Proposes Orion Test Flight in 2014

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.