New Space For Satellites

Dec. 21, 2004
Spectrum Astro's manufacturing and test facility in Gilbert, Ariz., is "go" for business.

Under Arizona skies, whose very vastness naturally leads the eyes to the heavens, Spectrum Astro Inc.'s $37 million state-of-the-art satellite manufacturing and test facility in Gilbert, southeast of Phoenix, is now open for business. Dubbed by the company the "Factory of the Future," the facility contains more than 135,000 square feet of assembly, integration and test space capable of producing more than 20 medium-sized satellites simultaneously. The new factory -- with multiple clean room areas, including a 14,500-square-foot satellite assembly bay -- is located on an 80-acre site less than two miles south of the company's corporate headquarters in Gilbert. "It's going to allow us to assemble space-shuttle-class vehicles, which are up to 60-feet long or high. And, for the first time, it allows us to do all of the environmental testing here in Arizona," says W. David Thompson, the company's president and CEO. Satellites previously were manufactured in limited space at the headquarters building and tested offsite. "I kind of took the idea that Ford used when he built River Rouge, where the iron ore came in off Lake Erie, and cars went out the other end," relates Thompson. "So piece parts come into one end of this building, and satellites go out the back." The facility was designed to manufacture cost-effectively while minimizing risk during production. To reduce risks during manufacturing, the factory's assembly, integration and test areas are located in the same building and on the same level, allowing satellites to move easily from assembly bays to environmental test chambers on air-bearings or carts. "Anytime you have a piece of high-value hardware . . . you want to handle it as little as possible as you get work-in-process built up into it," stresses Thompson. Additionally, the single-level factory design promises to enhance productivity and reduce cycle time for integration and testing. To help lower the costs of satellite production, the building uses a control and management system for lighting and HVAC. For example, motor drive systems from compressors to air handlers are on variable frequency drives that allow them to use only the power needed to meet the load. Lighting is high-efficiency fluorescent. Major construction of the new manufacturing facility, where 50 production people work, began in January 2003 and was completed this past February. The only economic development incentive: a rebate on the city's portion of the sales tax on construction materials. "I think it was worth about $250,000," says Thompson. Founded in 1988, Spectrum Astro, with a total of 550 employees (mostly engineers), is among other things the prime contractor for the U.S. National Aeronautics & Space Administration's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope and Swift satellite programs and the Pentagon's Space Test Program's Coriolis and Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System satellites. Spectrum Astro also is part of the Lockheed Martin Corp. team competing to design and build the next generation of Global Positioning System satellites.

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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