The Valley of the Sun is playing some vital roles in NASA’s Orion Project, the next generation of spacecraft that will eventually take humans to the moon and Mars.
Orbital Sciences Corp., a manufacturer of space and launch equipment that has research and development offices in Chandler, announced it has won a $35 million contract from the National Aeronautic and Space Agency and the Air Force Space Development to provide rockets to test an emergency escape system for astronauts.
Once operational, the so-called launch abort system, which Orbital is also developing, will eject astronauts away from the craft’s rocket boosters at a speed of 800 mph during an emergency before or after liftoff.
The most recent contract came with options for an additional $45 million in work.
Orbital’s announcement came on the heels of Phoenix-based Honeywell Aerospace’s announcement of 500 new jobs as a result of its contribution to the Orion Project.
“We could not have asked for a more prominent role,” said Bill Gregory, a former astronaut and senior sales manager for Honeywell’s Human Space operations.
The company, Orion’s biggest subcontractor, is responsible for developing the vehicle’s displays, supporting software and navigational technology. The main contractor, Lockheed Martin, is making the actual Orion crew vehicle. The crew vehicle will closely resemble the space capsules used during NASA’s Apollo Space Program, which eventually put men on the moon.
Orion is part of the agency’s Constellation Program to send human explorers back to the moon and Mars, will take over the aging Space Shuttle Program around 2020.
Orbital Sciences spokesman Barron Beneski said the company’s Abort Test Boosters in 2009 will be the first hardware to be tried out for the new space vehicle. The company announced last year that it won a contract to develop the vehicle’s Launch Abort System. Testing will begin in 2009 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and will include a prototype capsule and abort
“It’s a very good piece of business for us,” Beneski said.
Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said the news illustrates how the state has become more business friendly for exporters in the semiconductor industry and aerospace industries. “It just shows that our high tech manufacturing sector is very strong in the Valley,” he said.