Wesley Bush. Credit: Northrop Grumman

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems division took an $18 million hit to projected third-quarter profit related to an unspecified space program, the company reported Oct. 26.

The aerospace division, which builds satellite hardware for civil, military and classified government customers, saw its operating income reduced relative to projections because anticipated on-orbit performance fees did not materialize during the quarter, Northrop Grumman Chief Financial Officer James F. Palmer during a conference call with investors. He did not name the program.

Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems booked $2.5 billion in sales for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, down $134 million, or 5 percent, compared with the corresponding period in 2010. For the nine months ending Sept. 30, sales were $7.9 billion, down 4 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2010. Higher sales on Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft Systems helped offset sluggish sales of space hardware, the company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lower volume for space systems was primarily due to reduced funding for the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Weather Satellite System and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope — Northrop Grumman is prime contractor on both programs — as well as for several unspecified space programs, the company said. Lower demand on the company’s manned aircraft programs also was a factor, the company said.

During the conference call, Palmer said the company expects aerospace sales to reach $10.6 billion for the year.

Northrop Grumman’s Baltimore-based Electronic Systems division, meanwhile, posted a 2 percent increase in sales for the quarter, to $1.9  billion. Palmer said the division’s performance was helped by a $17 million performance incentive payment on the Space Based Infrared System missile warning satellite program, for which Northrop Grumman builds the main sensors.

Northrop Grumman Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Wesley G. Bush said that while the third quarter is often a strong period for contract awards, this latest quarter was an exception.

“I would say, this year has not been a typical year by any stretch of the imagination with the effects of the continuing resolutions, both last year, the 2011 CR and the prospect of a longer CR here in 2012,” Bush said. Customers continue to be cautious in releasing money for programs as the budgetary outlook remains uncertain through 2012, he said.

Palmer said he expects fourth quarter revenue to be comparable to that of the third quarter.

Bush said the company is looking toward its command-and-control and surveillance programs, along with unmanned aerial vehicles, and cyber and logistics services as long-term money makers.