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Frontiers March 2013 Issue

OUTOFTHISWORLD Boeing’s satellite-making business continues to build on a legacy of great accomplishment—and innovation By Eric Fetters-Walp and Diana Eastman Photos by Bob Ferguson Design and build a satellite that’s durable enough to survive the violent shaking and noisy roar of a ride atop a rocket. Once it arrives at its orbital desti-nation, it must survive inhuman temperature changes, extreme radiation and collisions with debris while orbiting at almost 7,000 mph (11,300 kilometers per hour). And all of its sophisticated electronics and moving parts better work reliably for at least 15 years—because they can’t be fixed 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) above Earth. “We only get one attempt to do it right. Once it’s on orbit, it’s got to work,” said Anthony Pirozzi, director of Space-craft Integration, Test and Launch at Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif. That’s been the mission since Syncom, the world’s first geosynchronous communi-cations satellite, was built at the El Segundo plant 50 years ago. Today, the expertise of the 5,500 em-ployees at the El Segundo site in designing and building satellites for both commercial and government customers has enabled Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, part of Defense, Space & Security, to grow its business in recent years despite fierce global competition. “We have contained costs and improved our efficiency in order to become more affordable,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems. “We also expanded our product port-folio to introduce an unprecedented two satellite designs in three years—including the industry’s first all-electric satellite—and we have renewed our pursuit of the com-mercial market,” he said. “We have been rewarded with a steady amount of new business, resulting in more than 20 satel-lites ordered over the past four years.” Boeing’s legacy of communications sat-ellite development began in El Segundo in 1961 when Howard Hughes formed Hughes Space and Communications Co. as part of Hughes Aircraft. The plant was formerly operated by General Motors and had been the birthplace of the Nash Rambler. Instead of cars, the Hughes plant produced satellites that changed the world and how people live, travel and com-municate. Following Syncom, the newly established factory built Early Bird, the first commercial communications satellite. Boeing acquired Hughes Space and Communications in 2000. All of the complex spacecraft built at the satellite facility, some of which end up larger than school buses, begin with tiny pieces assembled in the Microelectronic Circuits Laboratory. Emma Chisholm, a microwave circuit technician, said the assembly process has changed as much as the satellites. She used to manually, with much patience, fit together wires, microchips and other electronics. But now she can direct a machine to do most of that precision work. “We’ve come a long way,” said Chisholm, who’s worked at the site 33 years. “This is a field that, when I was in high school, PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: (Above) An artist’s concept of the Wideband Global SATCOM satellite, a Boeing 702 high-power communica-tions spacecraft built for the U.S. Defense Department. BRANDON LUONG/BOEING; SATELLITE PHOTO: BOEING; BACKGROUND: SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTOS: (Insets, from left) Varen Keshishi, left, and Steven Wong evaluate acoustic test requirements; Doris Brown assembles small electronics; Michael Langmack, left, and Grace Leung design satellites to customer specifications. BOB FERGUSON/BOEING 18 BOEING FRONTIERS / MARCH 2013


Frontiers March 2013 Issue
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