A construction worker at Spectrum Astro's new “Factory of the Future” in Gilbert commented that it must have been designed by a rocket scientist. In fact, it was.
The $37 million plant, where the company will build advanced space satellites for NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense, is on schedule for a February opening, company officials said.
The plant is the first U.S. factory designed from the ground up for satellite construction and testing since the Sputnik era and figures to be one of the most advanced facilities of its type in the world. Spectrum Astro president W. David Thompson, who played a major role in designing the factory at Elliot and McQueen roads, gave a tour to Tribune reporters and editors Wednesday.
As tall as an eight-story building at its highest point, the factory will have the capacity to build 20 medium-sized satellites simultaneously or one giant satellite that could fit in a space shuttle.
It features a massive 137-ton concrete door that rolls on railroad tracks and a 20-ton crane for moving satellites around the factory floor. It also has a thermal vacuum chamber that simulates temperatures in space ranging from minus 260 degrees to plus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. And an acoustic-vibration chamber will simulate the noise and vibration of a rocket launch to ensure the satellites are strong enough to withstand such forces.
The roof is designed to withstand the weight of 4 inches of rain water even if all of the drains are plugged, and the sides will withstand wind gusts of up to 150 mph. “It's over-designed, but you don't want the building collapsing on your satellites,” Thompson said.
In fact, the factory will contain just about everything needed to build and test the most advanced space systems. Yet, because of its super-efficient state-of-the-art equipment, the plant will cost about 30 percent less to operate than traditional aerospace factories, Thompson said.
The factory is part of a corporate plan to move into development of larger satellites and entire constellations of satellites. Founded in 1988, Spectrum Astro has carved out a niche as a low-cost producer of small research and development satellites for the U.S. government. But to grow, the company will have to start designing and building bigger satellites, Thompson said.
Also the privately held company may be sold, making it a division within a larger aerospace company, which will help win larger contracts, he said.
Among the satellites built by Spectrum Astro are the Gamma ray Large Area Space Telescope for NASA and Coriolis, a Defense Department satellite that measures wind speed over the oceans and coronal mass ejections from the sun that can disrupt communications on Earth. Spectrum Astro also is working as a subcontractor on satellites for the National Missile Defense System and a next-generation global positioning system.