CLEARWATER — A Clearwater company recently won a contract to help build Orion, the space capsule that one day will carry astronauts to the moon and beyond.
Honeywell Aerospace, on Ulmerton Road, will develop and install a variety of technologies on the Orion project, including navigations systems, displays, controls and flight software for the capsule under Lockheed Martin Corp., the prime contractor for Orion. Honeywell is scheduled to sign the contract at its Clearwater plant on Jan. 17, said Honeywell spokesman Adam Kress.
“Lockheed is the primary contractor on the Orion project and Honeywell is a top supplier,” he said.
According to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, the contract is a boost for Clearwater and the county.
“This new partnership between Honeywell and Lockheed Martin is a major win for both Pinellas County and our nation’s space program,” the congressman told Tampa Bay Newspapers. “The goal of returning Americans to the moon will run right through Clearwater. It’s an exciting development and I look forward to supporting this critical work and NASA’s broader mission.”
The event is not open to the public, and Honeywell and Lockheed Martin program managers will be on hand to discuss the technology Honeywell will provide in the program, Kress said.
In September, NASA and Lockheed Martin finalized a $4.6 billion contract for the production and operations of six Orion spacecraft, with the option of ordering a dozen in all. Honeywell will be the subcontractor to Lockheed, a role it has played before.
The contract with Lockheed (the dollar value was not yet available by press time) could create business for other local companies that have contracts with Honeywell, Kress said.
“Honeywell has contracts with six Tampa area companies that are related to the Orion program,” he said.
• R&D Machine and Engineering Inc. of Oldsmar
• Tampa Bay Machining Inc. of Tampa
• KW Products Inc. of Oldsmar
• Florida Seal and Rubber of Tampa
• H&S Swansons’ Tool Co. of Pinellas Park
• Venice Precisions LLC of Venice
Other Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg companies have provided goods and services for the Orion program through Lockheed Martin contracts, Kress said, including Alro Industrial Supply, Clearwater; Cam Bobcad Inc., Clearwater; Depco Pump Co., Clearwater; Nelco Products Inc., Largo; Software House/Convergint, Electronic Precepts Florida, of Largo; and Conax Florida Corp. in St. Petersburg.
NASA has not explained in much detail the missions the reusable capsule will perform, but it is hoped it will first undertake an unmanned mission to the moon, sometime in 2021-22. In the second step, NASA will use the Orion capsule to carry between two and six astronauts — at least one will be female — to simply orbit the moon. In the third mission, an Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts to dock with an orbiting structure known as the “Gateway” and, after undocking, land on the moon. That moon landing, the first since the Apollo program ended, is tentatively scheduled for 2024. It is all part of what NASA dubs “Artemis: Humanity’s Return to the Moon.”
According to NASA, the Orion crew vehicle’s smart cockpit that will monitor the vehicle’s health and other data is derived from Honeywell’s Boeing 787 flight-deck technology. Honeywell Aerospace, which also was involved in the Apollo program, including man’s first walk on the moon, created the computer hardware and local area network that manages Orion’s flight. That hardware included the three-axis gyro system that accurately tracks the spacecraft’s attitude in space.
Ray Crum, technical director of the NASA Orion space program at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix, told Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine in 2009 that the Clearwater company has developed intelligent navigation and software for the Orion program that support data, communications and navigation. The program combines Honeywell engineering and Lockheed Martin software for onboard control of abort sequencing and inertial navigation. The abort system separates the capsule when problems occur shortly after launch. The capsule is designed to parachute safely to Earth.
Honeywell also developed the controllers for the heavy rocket engines NASA uses to carry Orion into the upper atmosphere and into space.
According to NASA, the RS-25 engines — built by Aerojet Rocketdyne — are the main engines that are lit at the dramatic beginning of a rocket launch. During Apollo, they were called F-1s, but are better remembered as Saturn 5s. The controllers, supplied by Honeywell, regulate thrust levels and monitor the health and performance of the engines as they lift and carry the Orion capsule and its payload into space, Aerojet Rocketdyne reported.
All of this will be put together during NASA’s first integrated test of NASA’s deep-space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
The Orion vehicles in the Artemis program are the next step to the real prize, sometime before 2030: Landing humans on Mars (oh, and return them safely to Earth), NASA says.
Honeywell Clearwater took on more of the Orion work after Honeywell closed its Albuquerque plant in early 2019.