Lockheed Martin plans to invest $350 million in a new satellite production plant, which the company says could trim fat from a traditionally long and costly development process.
The new facility will include a thermal vacuum chamber, where the harsh space environment can be simulated for testing satellite systems. The facility will also contain an anechoic chamber for testing sensors and communications payloads. The plant is scheduled to be finished in 2020.
"You could fit the Space Shuttle in the high bay with room to spare,” said Rick Ambrose, vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement. “That kind of size and versatility means we'll be able to maximize economies of scale, and with all of our test chambers under one roof, we can streamline and speed production.”
The construction is not an unusual tactic for Lockheed Martin in the wake of crippling delays and cost overruns in its contract for the first ten satellites in the new GPS constellation. In 2015, the company said that it would alter how it built radio frequency payloads so that it could avoid shipping smaller parts around the country before the final assembly.
The facility could also be used to construct smaller satellites. That would dovetail with Lockheed Martin’s recent investment in Terran Orbital, a maker of small commercial satellites that provide internet connectivity or survey farmland. The funding is representative of an industry shift toward small, inexpensive, standardized satellites.
The facility will be built on Lockheed Martin’s campus in Waterton Canyon, Colorado, where the company makes satellites for connecting soldiers on remote battlefields to placing smartphones on a world map. It also works on the GPS III and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-R satellites.
"This is our factory of the future,” Ambrose said in a statement.