As space business grows, Ruag ramps up U.S. manufacturing

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Swiss aerospace firm Ruag is a major supplier of components to the U.S. space industry. In anticipation of more business from rocket and satellite manufacturers, the company is ramping up investments in its U.S. operations in Alabama, Florida and in a research center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Ruag space revenues last year were around $380 million, one third of which came from U.S. sales. “Going forward, it is in the U.S. where we see most room for growth,” CEO Peter Guggenbach told SpaceNews.

He noted that Switzerland is the sixth biggest foreign investor in the United States.

“Looking forward, we want to be the first choice supplier to satellite constellations,” he said. The company specializes in hardware such as structures, thermal insulation, dispensers and ground support equipment. To increase its footprint in the space sector, it just announced a new line of on-board computers and electronics aimed at commercial satellites.

“We now employ a U.S. workforce that is close to 100,” said Guggenbach. The company’s first U.S.-made payload fairings are in production in Decatur, Alabama. In Silicon Valley, it is developing digital signal processing and microwave products for high-throughput satellite payloads.

United Launch Alliance is Ruag’s biggest U.S. customer. Others include Boeing, SSL and Orbital ATK. Ruag is the second largest supplier to OneWeb, after Airbus. The Titusville, Florida, facility was built to support the manufacturing of 900 OneWeb satellites, but Guggenbach said the idea is to expand beyond a single program. “We are in talks with a number of other customers.”

Manufacturing techniques have helped OneWeb keep costs down, he said. “For example, while all satellite panel inserts had been manually installed in the past, the cutting, gluing, potting and checking of those inserts is now fully automated.”

Guggenbach said the company is bullish on the U.S. space business even though there are export restrictions. “This often is discussed by global companies like Ruag when we decide to invest in the U.S.,” he said. “The limitations could even offset the highly competitive manufacturing value chain in the U.S.” He said the U.S. government should revisit current export control regulations, “particularly now as the space industry undergoes its own ‘industry 2.0’ — much like the automobile industry went through decades ago.”

Thanks to serial manufacturing, cars became affordable to everyone. The same is happening in space, he said.

On the civil space side, Ruag is on the Dynetics team for the universal stage adapter for NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. Ruag will make large composite structures for the rocket in Decatur.