Propelling toward a cleaner future

Holly Murphy

Engineer Holly Murphy can watch Boeing’s latest and most innovative satellite come together in an El Segundo, California, factory and remember when the technology was just an idea on a piece of paper.

“We started several years ago talking about and wondering what we possibly could build. Today I can walk along the manufacturing floor and see the satellite and hardware. It’s a very rewarding feeling,” said Murphy, engineer in the Satellite Development Center in Boeing’s Space & Intelligence Systems group.

“My whole team is proud that we designed a product that will be better for the environment than previous generations of satellites.”

Murphy leads the development and manufacturing of the platform hardware for Boeing’s first all-electric-propulsion satellite — the 702SP (small platform.) Most satellites use a chemical propulsion engine to get to their final orbit position. The 702SP is fueled exclusively by xenon, an inert, non-hazardous gas.

The satellite uses solar panel generated electricity to power the electric thrusters which ionize the xenon gas to generate propulsion. “The all-electric propulsion enables us to reduce the amount of hazardous material present during the satellite’s manufacture and operation,” Murphy said.

The 702SP also is a smaller, lighter design, which means that two satellites can be stacked one on top of the other in a rocket for a double launch. Murphy said a dual manifest launch is more efficient and reduces customers’ costs.

The innovations and benefits don’t stop with the 702SP. “A lot of what we’re learning on this satellite can be applied to other product lines,” she added.

The solar panels are built by Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab. The satellite is scheduled to be delivered to the customer by mid-2015.

The varieties of challenges that come with developing a new product are what Murphy enjoys most about the job. “I like working with a diverse group of people that gets to tackle hard and different problems every day; I’m always learning,” she said. “We have the freedom to challenge the way the company does business and try to do things better.”

One way Murphy’s team is doing things better is by designing a satellite that will help Boeing improve its environmental footprint, she said.

“We need to consider the Earth is here for all of us. I try to do my part where I can, such as in driving a plug-in hybrid electric car to work every day,” Murphy said.

“From a business and environmental perspective, it’s all about innovation — doing things smarter and better. The 702SP has a role to play in providing a cleaner alternative to other satellites, and it’s something we all can be proud of.”