NASA extends Lockheed Martin development contract and adds two launch abort system test flights to programme

The cost of developing NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle has increased by $385 million and it will take two more years, because of an engineering change proposal requested by the space agency in December. Orion is expected to carry up to six astronauts to the International Space Station from March 2015.

Because of the change, NASA has extended the $3.9 billion five-year development contract awarded to Lockheed Martin last August by two years and increased its total cost to about $4.3 billion. Two test flights of Orion's Orbital Sciences-designed launch abort system have also been added, increasing the cost.

"This contract update will synchronise our spending plan with the rest of the Constellation programme," says NASA's Orion project manager Skip Hatfield, echoing the agency's statement that the extended seven-year contract "now matches the evolving NASA budget landscape".

The Constellation spending plan has been affected by a US Congress-imposed $577 million cut in exploration systems development funding in the current fiscal year 2007 budget. NASA's 2008 budget has yet to be approved by the US Congress.

Last month Flight International exclusively revealed that, months after its system requirements review, the Orion design was still too heavy. The review was completed in January and NASA and Lockheed have a systems design review scheduled in August.

As well as the cost increase NASA also announced that production of a pressurised ISS cargo carrier version of the Orion has been dropped from the contract. This has been expected because NASA is spending $500 million through its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme with two companies that are in competition to develop such a capability.

Source: Flight International