Despite annual sales of around $20 million and a rating as one of the fastest-growing space companies in the USA, Spectrum Astro's success had gone relatively unnoticed until NASA awarded it the contract to develop the first craft in the space agency's New Millennium programme.

Spectrum Astro, of Gilbert, Arizona, is building the Deep Space 1, to be launched by a Delta Med-Lite booster in 1998 to fly by the asteroid McAuliffe on 26 January, 1999, and the comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura on 1 June, 2000.

The 350kg Deep Space 1 will support NASA's objective to advance new technologies rapidly for interplanetary, Earth-observation and other spacecraft, with an emphasis on lower-cost, higher reliability, smaller, more efficient spacecraft.

The company was founded in 1988 and immediately "-attacked long-standing cost, technical and cultural barriers that have plagued high performance space systems", it says. To date, it has won more than 50 space research-and-development and manufacturing contracts and has launched several satellites in the low-cost $10-35 million price range, including Miniature Sensor Technology Integration (MSTI) satellites for the US Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The majority of the company's revenue comes from Department of Defense contracts, and 50% of the business is in subsystems.

Other work includes the electrical-power subsystems, command and data-handling avionics for NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, launched in November, and the 1988 Mars Surveyor orbiter and lander spacecraft. Similar systems are being provided for the NASA Discovery programme's Lunar Prospector.

Spectrum Astro has also provided an ion-thruster system for the Japanese NStar communications satellites. The company's goal is to gain more civilian work, particularly in remote-sensing and communications satellites, offering a full space service from design to launch. To accomplish this, Spectrum Astro has introduced the SA2, SA3 and SA1000 satellite buses for customers looking for low-Earth to geostationary orbit spacecraft.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California awarded an initial $1.1 million contract to Spectrum Astro in October 1995 to design the Deep Space 1, and the full construction contract is expected to follow that deal.

JPL chief mission engineer Marc Rayman says that the Deep Space 1 has a "-payload suite of 13 advanced technologies, all of which offer important benefits to future space science missions". These include a miniaturised camera and spectrometer, which will image the asteroid and comet in ultra-violet, infra-red and visible wavelengths; a xenon ion thruster; composite lightweight high-gain antenna; and full onboard autonomy.

To support the Deep Space 1 programme and with an eye to future contracts for the already-planned Deep Space 2, 3 and 4 craft, Spectrum opened the New Millennium Center in May 1996. This will also support the firm's work on all small satellite contracts.

Source: Flight International