Lockheed stresses flexibility with new satellite plant

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WASHINGTON — With a space portfolio that runs a gamut for different requirement needs, Lockheed Martin has started construction on a new $350 million facility the company says will provide the kind of assembly, testing and validation Lockheed needs across the line of satellite programs it has and expects to secure.

Based on Lockheed’s Waterton Canyon campus near Denver, the new Gateway Center, slated for completion in 2020, includes a state-of-the-art high bay clean room capable of simultaneously building a spectrum of satellites from “micro to macro,” the company says.

The design and construction of the center will enable Lockheed to work on a variety of different satellites and satellite stages simultaneously, leveraging common-use equipment and an in-house transportation system that will make it much easier to move around even the largest and most sensitive systems, said Annette Elges, director of Assembly, Test and Launch Operations for the Denver campus.

Lockheed has no specific satellites in mind for the center, Elges says.

“We are building this to be as versatile as it can be,” she said in an Aug. 4 interview, “so we can bring in large communication satellites and smaller planetary satellites, which are very small, and everything in between.”

A mainstay satellite producer for the military space programs, Lockheed’s portfolio includes Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), GPS-3, Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) and Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites. Those programs alone, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated in May are worth a combined total of about $47 billion.

“We have government customers of various kinds,” Elges said. “I’m keeping an eye on the clean room to make sure it stays as versatile as possible. We don’t want to build any fixed work cells or structures that make it so we can’t adapt to whatever program could come in there. It’s like having a big family with a house not quite big enough and you’ve got to build that extra bedroom. We’ll sort out who’s going to go into those rooms when they’re finished.”

The clean room, she says, can be configured in whatever manner is needed with the appropriate electrical and mechanical test stations. Lockheed also has designed the center, she noted, so that while one program could be using the clean room, another could enter through an air lock and use the vacuum chamber.

“They can use it without impacting any work ongoing in the clean room,” she said, adding the other chambers have the same accessibility when the clean room is in use. The center is designed, she says for satellites to be rolled from the chambers to the clean room or wherever else they may be needed with relative ease. Before, she says, the satellites would have to be moved to different parts of the campus.

“To make a journey of a quarter of a mile, we need to protect (the satellite) just as we would to go cross country,” she said.

“It’s kind of one-stop shopping,” she said. “We can accomplish the whole build cycle under one roof. We won’t have to lift the satellites. We won’t have to use the cranes. We don’t have to encapsulate it (the satellite) in any way.”

The center, she said, also is creating common electrical, mechanical and testing equipment to monitor and handle the satellites for all the different programs. “We won’t need a mass equipment changeout.”

She added, “We are already deploying common test equipment. It is our design. We buy a number of pieces from different vendors and integrate it. We go with the 80-20 model – 80 percent common from one to the next and we may need 20-percent customization to make compatible to a specific spacecraft.”