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Lockheed Corp. Retools to Shoot for the Stars : Technology: Aerospace giant will build mid-size rockets to send both defense and civilian payloads into space.

May 05, 1993|From Associated Press

SAN JOSE — Lockheed Corp., hit hard by the post-Cold War decline in defense spending, said Tuesday that it will build mid-size rockets to send both defense and civilian payloads into space.

Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., a Sunnyvale-based division of the aerospace giant, said the new launchers will accommodate payloads ranging from 2,300 pounds to 8,000 pounds.

"It is deeply rewarding to be able to migrate the technology we developed in our defense programs to the civil uses needed today," said Howard Trudeau, vice president of engineering for Lockheed Missiles.

Lockheed has been building solid propellant boosters for 35 years. Among its current offerings are the Stealth fighter-bomber and the Navy's submarine-based Trident missile.

The light launch vehicles will provide customers with reliable and relatively inexpensive access to space, Trudeau said.

The company will continue selling chiefly to the Department of Defense and NASA, but also plans to sell the launchers to civilian customers.

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"It's not a conscious effort to say 'I want to focus on civil,' " said Howard Rubel, an analyst with Goldman Sachs in New York who follows Lockheed. Rather, he said, the move is an example of a company with technological expertise applying it to a new market.

Launcher program manager Don Damon said Lockheed will internally fund the two-year program to design, develop and demonstrate the launcher. The first launch is planned for November, 1994.

"It's a major shift inasmuch as we're trying to diversify," Damon said. "It is the beginning of getting into (the) commercialization of space."

The company would not disclose how much money it plans to spend on the program.

The three-version family of launchers will use solid-fuel rocket engines built by Thiokol and United Technologies, Lockheed said. They will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

In addition to the Trident I and II missiles, Lockheed played a key role in other military ballistic missile programs, beginning with the Polaris system of the 1950s and the later Poseidon.

Lockheed lost $283 million in 1992, though much of that was because of health benefit reporting changes that required charges to earnings.

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Last October, the Navy awarded Lockheed a $1.1-billion contract for 39 new Trident II missiles and related work. At the same time, Lockheed Missiles said the cancellation of a secret Pentagon program would force it to lay off 500 workers at its Sunnyvale plant and transfer another 155 workers out of California. Lockheed cut a total of 3,700 workers in 1992.

Lockheed Missiles employs 19,000 people nationwide, including 16,000 in Sunnyvale. It is Silicon Valley's single largest employer.

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