Millennium works with Boeing to address smallsat demand

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif.  — Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary best known for building small satellites for national security applications, is working closely with its corporate parent to gear up for rapid production of spacecraft for government and commercial constellations.

Millennium is setting up a dedicated small satellite factory within the 93,000-square-meter manufacturing plant where Boeing has produced 300 satellites. When Millennium’s factory is up and running in the fourth quarter of this year, the company will be able to assemble, integrate and test constellations of tens, hundreds or even thousands of satellites, Millennium CEO Jason Kim said during a March 29 press briefing.

In its original plant a mile away, Millennium will continue to build prototypes, the satellite equivalent of concept cars.

Once a prototype is completed and a satellite is designed for manufacturability, “we bring it into the smallsat factory where we can execute at scale,” said Michelle Parker, Boeing’s Space and Launch vice president and general manager.

Millennium, a 500-employee company founded in 2001, has built satellites for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force.

Since its acquisition by Boeing in 2018, Millennium has relied on the aerospace giant’s expertise in manufacturing and mission assurance as well as help navigating new markets.

“We’re working with Millennium to bring scale not only in manufacturing capability but also in the size and range of missions their spacecraft can support,” said Ryan Reid, Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems International president.

In return, Millennium is sharing its unique approach with Boeing.

“They bring not only the platforms and technologies for smaller satellites, but also the rapid prototyping and the way they innovate,” Parker said. “The way Millennium does design, development and rapid prototyping is something we’re looking to infuse through all of our space products.”

Both the government and commercial satellite markets have experienced dramatic changes in recent years. Orders for large geostationary communications satellites have waxed and waned as companies began to establish constellations of smaller satellites in low and medium Earth orbit.

On the commercial side, “we see an evolving of the market from what primarily had been a geosynchronous market to a multi-orbit, multi-scale, rapidly produced satellite market,” Parker said.

At the same time, government customers seek to enhance the resiliency of their space-based assets “through diversity, whether that’s diversity of orbit, diversity of size, diversity of mission life,” Parker said.

Through its integration with Millennium, Boeing has broadened its portfolio.

The aerospace giant continues to build large, high-throughput geostationary communications satellites for customers like Viasat and Pasifik Satelit Nusantara of Indonesia. For SES’s O3b mPOWER constellation, Boeing manufactures software-defined satellites destined for medium Earth orbit that are a fraction of the size of the geostationary spacecraft.

Still, the mPower satellites with a dry mass of 1,900 kilograms dwarf Millennium spacecraft, which usually weigh less than 1,000 kilograms.

Through its integration with Millennium, Boeing can look for “the best overall solution for customers,” Parker said. “It could be a combination of sizes and orbits. It could be a special development.”

If small satellites are the solution for a particular mission, “Millennium brings us the ability to build those rapidly in our smallsat factory,” Parker said.

Millennium could, for example, help Boeing produce satellites for a non-geostationary broadband constellation. In November, the Federal Communications Commission approved Boeing’s application for a 147-satellite constellation.

“We are actively engaging with partners and looking at continuing technology advancements and working with Jason’s team,” Reid said. “Having Millennium as part of that journey with us, I think, is a necessary and beneficial element to our overall success.”

This story originally appeared in the April 4, 2022 issue of SpaceNews’ Space Symposium Show Daily.