Lockheed takes over the U.S. government's Antarctic operations, keeps staff in Denver

More than two years past its original deadline, the National Science Foundation has finally awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to handle the U.S. government's vast operations in Antarctica. The thirteen-year, $1.9 billion contract begins April 1 and its headquarters will continue to be based in Centennial.

Lockheed Martin takes over from Raytheon Polar Services, which has run the program since 1999. Although Raytheon bid on the contract again, it faced stiff competition from Lockheed and several other companies and didn't make the final cut.

"It is a large contract award and it takes a fair amount of time to work your way through the information and come to a conclusion," NSF contracting officer Bart Bridwell says about the two-year delay. "In terms of selection, though, we thought [Lockheed] gave us a lot of advantages from a technical standpoint." Bridwell wouldn't comment on where Raytheon came up short in the bidding tournament.

Raytheon, like the companies that held the contract before it, based its Antarctic operations in the Denver area, and Bridwell says Lockheed plans to do the same thing and will likely hire on many of the Raytheon employees.

Erin Tassey, a spokeswoman for Maryland-based Lockheed, says it's too early to give details about what the company's operation will look like, but Lockheed is already looking for new recruits and has posted job ads on its website.

"Lockheed Martin is proud to work with more than 3,000 program participants involved in valuable research in Antarctica," said Linda Gooden, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin's Information Systems & Global Solutions business in a statement. "We have a longstanding history of supporting customers in remote locations and logistically challenging environments and are committed to fostering scientific and technological innovations that will benefit the world."

As the new contractor, Lockheed will support the U.S. government's three scientific research stations on the ice -- McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole and Palmer. It will also be in charge of constructing and maintaining the buildings and equipment; planning missions, transporting personnel and cargo; and maintaining communication. The contractor also hires, trains, feeds, houses, pays and protects the small army of staffers who live in Antarctica year round.

The sometimes strained relationship between Raytheon and these employees, especially those who have blogs discussing daily life on the continent, was the subject of the October 8, 2009, Westword feature "Ice Capades."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes