Alan Peaford travels to El Segundo and the world’s largest space facility to see how Boeing is preparing for the Paris Airshow space display.
A drive to increase the power and bandwidth for the next stage of satellite development is proving good news for Boeing’s space and intelligence systems division as it continues to roll out its 702 class of satellite.
As the California based business effectively steps back on its highly successful 601 and smaller 376 satellites, the demand for more power and greater processing speeds has seen the company’s activities switch to 80 percent Government funded work – a massive turnaround from the 26% it had a decade ago.
“This share can change from time to time depending on programmes,” says director of program services, Art Rosales. “In dollar terms the whole satellite market is growing both in the government and the commercial sectors after a fairly flat growth period.”
Talk of Boeing’s withdrawal from the commercial sector after failing to win the fifth XM satellite after developing the first four is premature.
“The commercial market is important to us,” says Rosales. “We are engaged on a number of interesting programmes where that demand for higher bandwidth requires the larger satellite such as the 702.” And at the Paris Air show the company will be keenly showing just what it has achieved and explaining how. Behind the team at Paris is a highly motivated team of professionals.
In the former Hughes space building in El Segundo, alongside Los Angeles International airport, more than a million square feet of lab and plant forms the world’s largest dedicated spacecraft facility.
“We apply all of the lean manufacturing processes here that our colleagues do in aircraft manufacturing,” says Jim Cusack who heads the space simulation laboratories that make up a key part of the complex.
“We build the satellites to meet a particular customer requirement. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the design and manufacture – then my job is to see if I can break them.”
Stepping inside the building you can see just why Boeing needs so much space. The highly polished floors show up the slightest bit of FOD and all workers and visitors are covered to reduce any chance of contaminated material reaching the spacecraft under construction.
Away from the manufacturing tooling there are huge chambers – part of Cusack’s playground – where the satellites face their final test.
“The things that can affect the satellite are noise, vibration, heat and cold,” says Cusack. “What we have to do is simulate those so as we can be sure the satellite will stand up to them. Once it is launched we can’t make repairs or mods. This is our chance.”
Noise is one such challenge, A launching rocket creates fatal noise levels. “If you can imagine that a fairly deafening rock concert is around 95 decibels just imagine what a rocket sounds like. At 132 decibels the sound will kill you. Inside our bay we increase that 10,000 times to make sure the satellite can stand up to it.” Says Rosales.
“We have the biggest stereo system in the world in here,” Cusack says.
They also have the brightest room area too. Electric filaments and lights can simulate one and a half suns, liquid nitrogen produces unimaginable cold and specially developed tools shake the satellite laterally and vertically.
“The customers sometimes come to watch that and you can feel their tension as the spaceraft is pushed about – but once it comes through that it is ready for space,” says Cusack.
And Boeing is certainly preparing a number of craft to be ready for space. At the loading back of the El Segundo plant a giant container – itself a carefully manufactured clean room – is ready to make the journey of a couple of miles to LAX where it is shipped to Kazakhstan for launch. Others are working their way along the production process with the payload being mated to the BUS section and then the giant solar panel wings folded in for transport preparation.
The 702 satellite wings are immense – indeed not much smaller than the new flagship Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. They fold like a concertina when installed in the rocket’s faring and then unfold once on station and face up to the sun’s rays to remain in their position 22,223 miles above the earth.
It is customers like DirecTV that are driving Boeing’s commitment to the bigger satellite like the 702. The High Definition (HD) TV application requires the higher power and bandwidth.
Likewise the GEM requirement for Thuraya, providing regional satellite communications for the Middle East that delivers mobile telephony, data, fax and messaging.
Elsewhere the company is developing payload to provide telecommunication services for South America, the Spaceway programme that offers bandwidth on demand for high-speed internet, video, voice and data across north America as well as fixed and broadcast services for Malaysia and southeast Asia.
According to Art Rosales the relationship between the commercial and the government work is a two-way street with technology or developmental exchanges that benefit both sectors.
“This happens time and again” says Rosales. The latest in technological development is in the digital signal processor evolution where there has been a twenty-times improvement in relative throughput in the past five years with available user bandwidth now exceeding 20 Ghz/Gbps. There has also been a trend to simplify the payloads to allow a design to be reconfigured or reprogrammed to reduce cost.
“The active antenna subsystems are a key enabling technology,” says Rosales.
“These offer more capacity and more flexibility. Basically they can give a larger number of beams so a customer can programme exactly where they want to reach and change its direction as demand changes plus we have greater flexibility for bandwidth and power on demand as well as now being able to control the shaped beam contour so as we can overcome rain or interference to allow the customer to maintain service delivery.”
Rosales vision for the future is a growth in highly reconfigurable satellites with flexible payloads. “These will change the industry by enhancing operator’s business capability and flexibility” he says.
With a backlog of 24 non-classified spacecraft and a large number of classified, the Boeing plant in El Segundo is continuing to thrive. “We have a highly motivated workforce here,” says Rosales. “The guy who built the first ever satellite – Syncom in 1963 – still comes in. Nearly 40 percent of the 240 commercial satellites in orbit were built here and we are working at taking it to the next stage.”
Source: Flight Daily News