NEW ORLEANS — Lockheed Martin Corp. will soon begin producing liquefied natural gas tanks at the Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans, a move that will create 166 new jobs and increase occupancy at the plant that has looked to find new life after the discontinuation of the space shuttle program.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday that Lockheed Martin will spend $3 million to begin the project.

In addition to the new jobs directly related to the project, Jindal said, 236 indirect jobs will also be created, meaning a total of 402 new jobs for the area. The direct jobs will have an average salary of $42,000 a year, plus benefits.

The 88-foot-long cryogenic tanks for liquefied natural gas will at first be used in the maritime industry. Some tanks will store the fuel source; others will be installed in ships’ hulls and filled with the gas that will power those vessels, said Gerry Fasano, president of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions-Defense.

The first phase of the project is expected to begin with the installation of equipment in December 2013.

Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., an economic-development alliance that serves a 10-parish area in southeast Louisiana, said that the project is a “double win” since it not only creates jobs and returns activity to Michoud, but because it is “validation” of what natural gas can do for south Louisiana as that industry expands.

Jindal said Lockheed Martin will be eligible for a payroll rebate of up to 12 percent, worth up to $7.6 million during 10 years, and will participate in a program from the Louisiana Economic Development Department to help screen and train employees. The company also is expected to get an industrial tax exemption for new or expanding business, Jindal said.

Nearly 10,000 people worked at Michoud during the space shuttle program, when the external tanks were built there. The plant turned out 136 tanks during the shuttle program’s, with the last one leaving in September 2010.

Right now about 80 percent of the 42-acre plant is occupied, according to Roy Malone, director of the Michoud Assembly Facility.

Engineers are once again working to create rockets that they hope will propel astronauts to Mars. That work takes up about 60 percent of the site, Malone said. The other occupied 20 percent includes tenants such as Lockheed Martin and Blade Dynamics Inc., a company that builds wind turbines.

New production at the facility will ensure the site continues to be useful, Jindal said.

“Not only does it have a great history,” the governor said of the Michoud facility, “it has a great future.”