Aerospace Center Opens At Stennis

Thermal "blankets'' that protect space vehicles traveling outside Earth's atmosphere will be one of the products made at a Lockheed Martin Corp. facility that opened Monday in South Mississippi.

Lockheed Martin's Mississippi Space & Technology Center is expected to begin production in the fall and employ 270 people. The 220,000-square-foot plant is located at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

The project is a partnership involving two Lockheed divisions -space systems and technology services; the state of Mississippi; Hancock County; and NASA. The state built the center and Lockheed will lease it, a company official said. Lockheed's investment in the project will surpass $29.5 million, he said.

"The activities performed in this facility will allow the corporation to achieve discriminating technical advantages in meeting critical mission needs for our valued customer's space programs,'' said Albert E. Smith, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Smith's division will design and produce propulsion and thermal protection systems for satellites and other spacecraft. The technology services side will provide calibration assistance to government and commercial customers. The state and Hancock County will work with Lockheed to train those hired for the center.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said the project meshes with the state's mission to provide more high-tech job opportunities. Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., has had a presence at Stennis for several years.

"The growth of Lockheed Martin in Mississippi is further evidence of the dynamic business climate in our state,'' Musgrove said. "I'm proud of the growth we're seeing statewide, and we're doing it in the face of a national recession.''

Stennis, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and its partners employ some 4,600 people. Its primary mission is managing NASA's rocket propulsion test programs. Every Space Shuttle main engine is tested at Stennis.

In afternoon trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, Lockheed shares were down 42 cents to $61.36.