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Updated: NSF Picks Lockheed for Huge Antarctic Support Contract

Southern outpost. A view to the north from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Jeff Scanniello

This item has been updated 2 p.m.on 30 December.

Lockheed Martin has won a contract worth up to $2 billion to support U.S. science in Antarctica. The National Science Foundation (NSF) selected the Maryland-based aerospace giant yesterday in a competition that ran more than 2 years longer than expected and featured a record seven bidders, including incumbent Raytheon Polar Services. The agreement, which runs until 2025, is likely to be the largest in the agency's history. It also extends NSF's record of choosing a new winner each time the contract is rebid.

NSF operates three Antarctic stations—at McMurdo Sound, the South Pole, and the tip of the western peninsula—which support as many as 1200 scientists during the austral summer from October to February. The contractor is responsible for providing everything nonscientific—from sustenance, shelter, and medical services to electricity, communications, and transportation—needed to carry out all manner of research in and around the stations and across the frozen continent. "It's like running a small town," says Erin Tassey, a spokeswoman for Lockheed, whose Information Systems and Global Solutions business will manage the project from its offices in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Raytheon began providing logistical support in 1999, and its contract, which was supposed to end in 2009, was twice extended while NSF deliberated over the bids. Neither NSF nor Lockheed would discuss the terms of the contract or why the company was chosen over the two other finalists, CH2M Hill of Englewood, Colorado, and KBR of Houston, Texas. Last month, CH2M received an 8-year, $325 million contract to continue providing logistical support for NSF-sponsored researchers operating in the Arctic.

Among Lockheed's biggest challenges will be satisfying the demands for computing power, remote access, and data management spawned by the growing number of scientific instruments at the South Pole, as well as improving logistical support for field stations located deep into the continent. NSF officials are trying to increase fuel storage capacity and conserve energy in an effort to reduce the need for the annual resupply of McMurdo Station, a worsening logistical challenge given the aging fleet of U.S. icebreakers.

Lockheed takes over operations on 1 April 2012.

Update, 30 December:

Lockheed's initial contract runs for 4.5 years and may be extended for as long as 8.5 more years. The agency has not yet met with the companies whose proposals were not chosen, according to NSF contracting officer Bart Bridwell. "Generally any bid protest is pursued subsequent to NSF's debriefing," he e-mailed ScienceInsider.

CH2M Hill officials don't rule out such an appeal. "CH2M HILL Antarctic Support Inc. is disappointed with the result of NSF's selection process for the Antarctic Support Contract," says Jennifer Gamble, communications manager for the Antarctic team at CH2M HILL. "The company is awaiting our debriefing from the NSF. We will determine the appropriate course of action after further evaluation of the source selection."