National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Lockheed Shrinking ASRG Team as Closeout Work Begins

SpaceNews.com recently published this article about closeout work for the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG): 

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is shrinking a team of 140 down to 25 now that NASA has canceled work on the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG), a next-generation nuclear battery for planetary missions that cannot rely on solar power.

It will cost about $2 million and the effort of 10 employees to close out the program, Bob LeRoy, Lockheed’s director of East Coast Operations, said in a Jan. 14 phone interview. Another 15 employees, at a cost in the “single-digit millions” range, will continue work through mid-2014 on ASRG hardware NASA wants completed, LeRoy said. That work will focus on the device’s controller, which is required to change the alternating current the ASRG produces into direct current compatible with a spacecraft bus.

NASA had been spending about $55 million a year on ASRG development and will save roughly $170 million during the next three years by canceling the project, Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told the agency-chartered Outer Planets Advisory Group at a Jan. 14 meeting in Tucson, Ariz.

Because ASRGs are fueled with plutonium, the Department of Energy managed Lockheed Martin’s ASRG development contract, which was awarded in 2008. However, NASA paid for all the work. Since 2008, NASA has spent $272 million on ASRG, Len Dudzinski, program executive for radioisotope power systems at NASA headquarters here, wrote in a Jan. 15 email to SpaceNews.

Most of that went toward Lockheed’s contract, which was worth about $304 million when a stop-work order arrived in December. The contract includes a $45 million extension and a $25 million cost overrun, both of which occurred in 2012, LeRoy said. For its money, NASA got a final design for the ASRG, plus a partially completed qualification unit, which will be shipped to NASA’s Glenn Research Center near Cleveland later this year.

“NASA is planning to continue technology maturation of Stirling power conversion technology for space applications,” Dudzinski said. “The Stirling convertor laboratory at Glenn will receive this hardware and integrate it into its existing testing program.”

The ASRG controller is being built in Denver. Hardware for the qualification unit was being developed at Lockheed’s Valley Forge, Pa., facility, which is not part of the Newton, Pa., facility the company is closing as part of the consolidation it announced late last year.