Factory Update: 3 Developments in Space Manufacturing
Ian Wright posted on October 14, 2016 | | 4139 views
Three Dragon spacecraft, the test article used in the parachute drop test and two vehicles being prepared for flight, sit together on the production floor at SpaceX Headquarters, a 550,000 square foot facility in Hawthorne, Calif.
Three Dragon spacecraft, the test article used in the parachute drop test and two vehicles being prepared for flight, sit together on the production floor at SpaceX Headquarters, a 550,000 square foot facility in Hawthorne, Calif.
With all the news about colonizing Mars and exploding booster rockets, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of space launches have a relatively mundane goal: putting satellites into orbit.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are currently 1,419 operational satellites orbiting Earth. That number could more than double over the next 10 years, with consulting firm Euroconsult predicting that an average of 145 satellites with mass exceeding 110 lbs (50 kg) will be launched over the next decade.

Add satellites under 110 lbs—which includes all those CubeSats we’ve been hearing about—and that number grows to 9,000 units over the next 10 years.

Putting the question of how we’re going to launch that many satellites over the next 10 years aside—especially given that we’ve only launched 1,480 in the previous decade—the obvious question to ask is where all the necessary equipment will be manufactured.

Three announcements from OneWeb, Millennium Space Systems and Vector Space Systems can shed some light on this topic.

 

Millennium Space Systems Expands Full-Service Space Factory

Artists conception of the new facility. (Image courtesy of Millennium Space Systems.)
Artists conception of the new factory. (Image courtesy of Millennium Space Systems.)
Earlier this year, Millennium Space Systems officially broke ground on Phase-3 of its manufacturing and production plant, building out an additional 35,000 sq ft at its existing spacecraft factory in El Segundo, Calif., located two miles south of LAX and adjacent to the Los Angeles Air Force Base and the Aerospace Corporation.

The expansion also encompasses additional space to broaden the company’s existing onsite mission operations, rapid prototyping and internal research and development laboratories.

Stan Dubyn, Millennium’s chairman and CEO, commented, “With this Phase-3 facility expansion, we’re putting into place the additional manufacturing and production processes and infrastructure to build hundreds of satellites each year, sparked by the work started with us by DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], on the SeeMe Program, where the demand was to provide a sustaining capability to build 24 satellites on 90-day call-ups.”

For more information, visit the Millennium Space Systems website.

 

OneWeb Satellites to Open High-Volume Manufacturing Facility

Rendering of the new facility. (Image courtesy of OneWeb.)
Rendering of the new facility. (Image courtesy of OneWeb.)
Not long after Millennium Space Systems broke ground, OneWeb Satellites announced that it would be building a new $85-million high-volume satellite manufacturing factory in Exploration Park, Fla. The factory, near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, is set to open in 2017, with delivery of initial satellites later that year or early the next.

OneWeb Satellites is a joint venture between OneWeb, a satellite-based internet provider, and Airbus Defense and Space, the world’s second-largest space company.

The high-volume satellite factory will be built in partnership with the State of Florida and Space Florida and is anticipated to create nearly 250 direct jobs. According to OneWeb, the 100,000-sq-ft facility will be the industry’s first satellite factory designed to mass-produce spacecraft using automated assembly and test capabilities similar to those used in aircraft production facilities.

The first 900 production satellites will weigh around 330 lbs (150 kg) and will be used primarily by OneWeb for its global Internet services, but the new satellites will be available for other commercial satellite operators and government customers as well. According to OneWeb, the satellites are well-suited for many mission types and can be delivered on short schedules at significant cost savings compared to those available today.

“This new facility is another step in the dream of enabling affordable Internet access for the entire globe,” said OneWeb founder Greg Wyler. “With this new facility, we will be able to iterate, update and continuously improve the satellites design and performance, and being right at the Space Center using Virgin Galactic we will be able to launch new satellites within hours of completion.”

For more information, visit the company website.

 

Vector Space Systems Opens New Manufacturing Facility

Booster engine testing. (Image courtesy of Vector Space Systems.)
Booster engine testing. (Image courtesy of Vector Space Systems.)
Most recently, the micro-satellite space launch company Vector Space Systems announced that it is locating its manufacturing facility in the Pima County Aerospace, Defense and Technology Business and Research Park in Tucson, Ariz.

As a company, Vector aims to connect space startups and innovators with affordable and reliable space access. It was officially launched in 2016 to build launch vehicles for micro-satellites. The company combines dedicated micro-satellite launches (Vector Launch) and software-defined satellites (Galactic Sky) in an effort to increase access and speed to orbit.

Vector will use the Pima County Aerospace, Defense and Technology Business and Research Park to manufacture its Vector-R and Vector-H launch vehicles that will be transported to sites in Alaska and Florida to launch micro-satellites into orbit.

"While Vector's eyes are focused on the stars, our home is in Arizona because we believe in its potential as a competitive tech hub and we're honored to have the opportunity to contribute toward its economic development in the aerospace manufacturing industry," said Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector.

For more information, visit the Vector Space Systems website.


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