The ‘big five’ US space companies could lose up to 10,000 jobs over the next few years unless the government accelerates procurement of first elements of the Constellation family’s Ares V and Altair programs, warns Boeing’s Space Exploration division head Brewster Shaw.
The ‘big five’ companies currently supporting the space shuttle program, namely Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ATK, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and United Launch Alliance, “are at risk of laying off 8,000 to 10,000 people,” says Shaw. The issue for the US space industry remains the looming gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the emergence of the follow-on Constellation family.
“If the procurement for Ares V and Altair is accelerated to 2010 so people could start work on it by 2012 it will alleviate some of it.”
However Shaw acknowledges that even if the contracts begin to roll he says, “no matter what happens, some people are going to get laid off.” Boeing has meanwhile submitted proposals for the Ares V phase one study contract, as well as the Altair concept design contract. The first flight of the Orion Ares I is meanwhile not currently scheduled until March 2015.
“We’ve got an immense challenge ahead of us,” adds Boeing vice president and program manager for space shuttle, John Mulholland. “We have nine flights on the manifest and scheduled to be finished by 2010. But we have two gaps – the first is between the shuttle and a replacement vehicle, and the second between the shuttle and the award of Altair/Ares V. We have the ability to compete for that and to gracefully move over to that would be great for our team.”
Although the shuttle is due to be retired by the end of next year, the final series of missions may be delayed by weather and other issues that will force the vehicle to continue operating into 2011, adds Shaw. “They’ve just got to get the job done, but they’re not going to do anything stupid just to get them all done by 2011.”
Mulholland adds “we’re scheduled for six missions for this year. We have conducted this number of missions at this rate – it’s not without precedent. But there’s not a great track record of meeting schedule, and things like hailstorms and rain can throw you out. Our confidence is ‘medium’ at this point,” he says.