Moog Space and Defense Group isn’t the most widely recognized name in the industry but its presence is far reaching.

Moog components are found aboard a large portion of the commercial satellites and U.S. rockets and missile interceptors built today. The product line, expanded over the years through acquisitions, includes fuel valves, thrust vector control systems, actuators, reaction wheels and avionics.

With the recent purchase of component maker Bradford Engineering of the Netherlands, Moog Space and Defense now boasts about 1,200 employees across the United States and at two locations in Europe. The work is divided roughly evenly between the space and defense sectors, Jay Hennig says.

Commercial geostationary satellite components comprise the biggest part of Moog’s space business, but NASA programs, specifically the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion deep-space capsule, hold the most growth potential, Hennig says. Another area that holds promise is so-called green propulsion systems that Hennig says are easier to handle and offer better performance than conventional systems fueled by highly toxic hydrazine.

Hennig spoke recently with Space News Editor Warren Ferster.


What work do you have on SLS?

We’re doing a lot of the valves, some avionics. We’ve got a lot of content on SLS. It’s a great program for us. We’ve gone from wondering if we had enough work for the engineers to do, particularly in that area, to having openings for about 25 engineers.


What portion of your space business is commercial?

We’re two-thirds commercial, one-third government. Government’s high now because of SLS and Orion. There were times when we were 75 to 80 percent commercial. We’re also on military satellites, with the same types of components that we have on commercial satellites.


What percentages of your business do Boeing and Lockheed Martin account for?

They’re probably each 20 percent of our business. I keep ULA [United Launch Alliance] separate, so if you split that up between the two of them maybe it’s 25 percent each.


Your commercial satellite revenue dropped by about $11 million in 2011. Was it a down year or was 2010 unusually good?

Sometimes our cycles are not at the satellite build rate. Because they’re standard components many times customers will stock up so they can offer a lower lead time and beat a competitor that way. So we’ll get huge orders from Astrium; they were stocking a bunch of products over 2010.


How do you assess your commercial business in the next several years?

We rely on our customers to forecast their business, and most of them are very good at sharing their projections, because they want us to staff accordingly; they want us to be able to meet the production needs. All the ones we talked to are planning on flat business for the next five years, which means probably 22 to 25 satellites.


How is your missile defense business faring?

Some programs are going up, some are going down. We just opened a brand new assembly and test area for missile defense. It was getting a bit crowded where we were, so we got that up and running and certified. We wouldn’t have done that if we thought missile defense was going to go away.


There’s a lot of concern about the aging of the U.S. aerospace work force. What are you doing to cultivate young talent?

Particularly with SLS development we’ve got the 20-something engineers that are training on components and its fun and exciting work for them. All space components are fussy. We like to say they’re difficult to design and almost impossible to build. If you lose that expertise it’s really hard to get it back. So we have an active, deliberate program to match up younger people with the more experienced people, particularly on specific component areas. We want to make sure we don’t have a situation where we’ve got that one guy that does a certain type of valve and he retires and we’ve never matched him up.


What percentage of your work is for non-U.S. customers?

It always runs about one-third, so ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations] is a huge issue for us. We get our licenses in a timely fashion; it doesn’t really inhibit business from that standpoint. But what it does do is create demand in Europe for ITAR-free satellites so they can sell them to the Chinese. So they’re artificially developing competition that I believe is unnecessary. A lot of the things we make are simple, like on-off valves. I don’t think we’re protecting the free world by limiting the export of an on-off valve.


Has ITAR made a measurable dent in your business?

It’s not insignificant. The saving grace is these components are hard to build. So the success rate of our competitors has not been high and the costs are higher because we have the volume.


Are you optimistic about export reform?

I am. It’s taking time but for the first time since 2000 I’m optimistic because we’ve been asked to comment on documents with changes. Will ITAR go away? No, because there are certain components we want to protect for national security reasons, but I think the rules will be much more practical going forward.


What made Bradford Engineering an attractive acquisition?

What we really liked about Bradford was the commercial business that they have. They’re not completely reliant on ESA [the European Space Agency]. We have reaction wheels, pressure transducers, latch valves and sun sensors that are sold in the commercial market to Astrium and Thales Alenia Space in Europe. So our plan is to expand that product base with products we can license into Europe and take the components that Bradford makes and bring them into the States.


Didn’t you already have a solid foothold in the European market?

We did. But we didn’t have a manufacturing base, which is important.


What percentage of your profit gets invested in research and development?

We allocate about 4 or 5 percent of profit for my group. We rarely spend more than that; sometimes we spend less because we’re so busy with funded programs. The last thing we want to do is waste our money developing something nobody needs. I’d say almost all of our development is tied to a customer development.


What’s your biggest research and development priority?

The biggest area that we’d like to see money spent in research and development is going to electro-hydrostatic or electro-mechanical actuation for thrust vector control. Today it’s hydraulic, some electro-mechanical. Electro-hydrostatic is the best of both worlds. You have a localized pump, wires going to a pump that’s on the actuator that’s hydraulic. All of the F-35 flight controls are electro-hydrostatic, so we’ve got a lot of experience, but the space industry adopts technology a little later, for risk reasons. It eases the maintenance at the launch pad because you don’t have all the hydraulic plumbing. If you need to replace an actuator at the launch stand, you unplug the wires and put a new one in; you don’t have to replumb the whole thing.


How would you describe handling green propellants versus hydrazine?

For me the best analogy is gasoline: You don’t want to drink it, you spill it on your hand, you’re going to rinse it off, but it’s not going to kill you. You want to be careful with it, but you don’t need to wear the re-breathers and the suits that they wear with hydrazine. With hydrazine, the whole safety procedure takes days to fill a propellant tank. And then if the launch is aborted you’ve got to take that fuel out. With green propulsion, you can actually get a Department of Transportation license to transport these completely loaded. So you can actually fill the propellant tank and ship the product.


What about the performance?

It’s about 8 percent higher specific impulse and 24 percent higher fuel density. So for the same volume you get more weight. If you add those up, it’s like 32 percent more efficiency that you get. I think if you got to the same volume we’re at with hydrazine now, it could be very competitive.


Do you have a lot riding on this?

We’re making a bet on it. We’ve assigned a full-time business development person for green propellants and he’s very, very busy writing proposals. But like everything in the space business, you’ve got to get that first so-called launch customer.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...