Lockheed Touts Benefits of its Satellite Manufacturing Consolidation

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WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin says it can reduce the time it takes to build payloads and satellites for the U.S. Defense Department by about six weeks as a result of closing its Newtown, Pennsylvania, space system factory planned for later this year.

In November 2013, Lockheed Martin announced it was shuttering its Space System division’s operations in Newtown as part of a corporate-wide restructuring. That new organization called for a massive revamping of Lockheed Martin’s Denver facilities and the promise of improved manufacturing, assembly and testing for its space manufacturing arm.

In July, Lockheed Martin announced that the reorganization has led to the creation of what it calls the RF [Radio Frequency] Payload Center for Excellence. Previously some of  the company’s satellite payloads and payload components were developed, built and sometimes tested in Newtown before being shipped and integrated at Lockheed Martin facilities in Denver or Sunnyvale, California.

Now, all of that work takes place at the center in Denver, which includes about 150 employees from the Newtown campus.

Lockheed Martin believes the consolidation will lead to cost savings, less time packaging the satellite for shipping, and significant risk reduction by avoiding moving the satellite across country. Specifically, Lockheed Martin officials hope to reduce the cycle time on satellites by about six weeks, said Sam Valenti, the director of the center.

“There’s a significant amount of risk anytime you’re touching or transporting the payload,” he said.

In addition, the new center has allowed Lockheed to build some components, such as antenna reflectors and antenna structures, in house as opposed to relying on contractors.

Lockheed Martin is a key player for the Defense Department’s space program and works as the prime contractor on several programs, but will likely face competition from other prime contractors in the coming years to hold on to its space business.

The company’s new payload center would have a hand in a number of Defense Department programs.

Those include the communication subsystem for the Air Force’s missile warning satellite constellation known as the Space Based Infrared System; the primary payload for the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System; the L-band antennas for the Air Force’s positioning, navigation and timing satellites; and classified payloads for the Defense Department and intelligence community.

But Valenti said the new organization would help position the company for future work, from either the commercial market or Defense Department customers.

“Enabling communications so people can make effective decisions is at the core of what RF systems do,” Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said in a July 7 press release. “Our new facility and network of experts position us to support these missions at high rates of production.”

Valenti said the center also would have a key role in any follow-on Air Force programs that Lockheed Martin might compete for in the future. Several Defense Department satellite programs will be recapitalized in the next decade and the Pentagon is expected to compete the work.

Lockheed Martin announced a similar center for optical payloads in September at its Palo Alto, California, facility.