Why Satellite Manufacturing Will Never Be the Same Again

Faster satellite manufacturing processes have been a topic of discussion in the past couple of years. With US government and satellite operators alike recently expressing their wish for satellites to be designed and produced faster, the pressure on manufacturers intensifies further. Martin Halliwell, CTO at SES, mentioned in a presentation at Space Tech Expo Europe in October 2017, that he is keen for the satellite manufacturing time to be reduced to as little as 18 months. What are the recent developments in this area and what will kick off soon?


Automation: Getting Bigger, Bolder and Better

Boeing, RUAG and OneWeb Satellites are just some of the organizations who have taken automation into their stride.

RUAG has automatized processes in place and are able to manufacture 40 different types of satellites. The Switzerland and Florida based manufacturer uses roadmaps for its automated processes as well as robotics and standardization. In February 2017, the company implemented new technologies to put lightweight solar panels in satellites.


satellite manufacturing

Image credit: © RUAG

OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus, has an assembly line located in Toulouse, France and in Exploration Park, near the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. As stated on Airbus’ website, both factories include “automation, test equipment and data acquisition capabilities to shorten assembly times”. The organization is currently manufacturing more than 800 satellites for its ‘gen-1’ constellation and plans to eventually assemble more than 2,000 satellites.


Innovative tools that enhance manufacturing processes

‘Conventional’ satellite manufacturers are also exploring opportunities to enhance satellite production processes. Lockheed Martin is reaching out to entrepreneurs and innovators. In February 2018, the company introduced their ‘Open Space’ program, allowing organizations and innovators to submit new payload design technologies that could be integrated in satellite platforms. For the Open Space program, Lockheed Martin released the technical specifics of three of its satellites: the LM-50, LM-400 and LM-2100.

Boeing, currently working on a large number of commercial satellite orders, aims to produce the SES O3b mPower satellites to be built at a much faster rate: the satellites will be modular and include built-in test capabilities.


satellite  Image credit: © RUAG


A completely different take on the definition of manufacturing

While the terrestrial satellite manufacturing industry is exploring different paths, several organizations are also experimenting with completely different ways of manufacturing and taking care of satellites.

In-space manufacturing and satellite servicing are two areas that will take-off in the space industry in the coming years. The company Made In Space is becoming an increasingly familiar name due to their success with their 3D printer on board the International Space Station and the development of the Archinaut mission. On the latter, Made In Space works together with Northrop Grumman, Oceaneering Space Systems and NASA Ames Research Center.

Maxar Technologies’ Space Infrastructure Services (SIS) is set to start their satellite servicing missions in 2021. The company has a long history of using robotics for in-space use, and previously delivered robotics for the Space Shuttle missions. Such robotics will be deployed in the satellite servicing vehicle which will offer inspection and evaluation of the satellites and will provide repair, upgrade, refuel and relocation services. So far, the company has a contract with satellite operator SES. 

Meanwhile, Orbital ATK will start system-level testing on their Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) this Spring. The vehicle is set to launch later this year, heading for an Intelsat spacecraft to provide the satellite with life extension. This type of vehicle is commonly referred to as a ‘space tug’ as it attaches itself to the satellite to extend the mission. The company is also working on the MEV-2 mission for Intelsat, which is due to take place in the mid-2020s. A range of other organizations are also exploring satellite servicing missions including Airbus and Effective Space Solutions.

The industry is changing and a market that was traditionally rather slow, realizes it needs to diversify and to pick up the pace. Download the Space Tech Expo Webinar to hear all about the aforementioned topics.


Webinar factsheet:

What: Ready to Pick Up the Pace? How to Meet Future Demand by Reducing Your Satellite Production Time

Who spoke: Boeing Defense, Space & Security, RUAG Space and Tempo Automation

How: Download it here