Alliant Techsystems Inc. has been named to a team with a $70 million contract to build an emergency propulsion system for the next-generation spacecraft Orion that would allow the crew to separate from the rest of the craft in the event of an emergency.
The contract will create 50 jobs in Maryland, most of them at the company's plant in Elkton but also some in Baltimore and Cumberland.
ATK employees will build the "attitude control motor" for the launch abort system that will allow the crew capsule to separate and land safely under its own power. The current space shuttles do not have such a mechanism, and many wonder whether it would have saved the crews lost aboard the ill-fated Challenger and Columbia.
The Elkton facility has a rich history of working with NASA, and manufactured a similar part for an emergency propulsion system on the Apollo craft, which the Orion closely resembles. For this contract, workers will manufacture a series of valves that will provide the thrust that will guide the crew out of harm's away.
Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. chose ATK, based in Edina, Minn., to be part of the Orion team, which is led by Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp.
Bart Olson, vice president and general manager for ATK's Mission Systems Group's Tactical Propulsion and Controls Division, said being part of the team is particularly important to the company because it could mean more business related to Orion, which will replace the space shuttle in 2010 and is slated to travel to the moon and Mars.
ATK plans to deliver the parts by April or May, before a scheduled test flight of the system next year at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Olson said.
ATK stock closed up $1.15 per share yesterday at $105.58.