Elton John’s “Rocketman” fittingly played on audio speakers shortly before the ribbon was cut in front of Northrop Grumman’s new manufacturing facility in Chandler earlier this week.
The 633,000-square-foot campus is where the defense contractor will work on rockets designed to launch satellites and intercept incoming missiles from America’s foreign enemies.
The high stakes of Northrop’s operations explain part of the reason why it rushed to get its new facility, located off Price Road, built in less than 17 months – an ambitious goal in the construction world.
“Many folks thought we couldn’t do it,” said Terry Feehan, Northrop’s vice president of launch vehicles.
But the company needed to expand quickly, he said, in order for Northrop’s 2,500 employees to meet certain deadlines.
“We had launches to make that without the new facility to make that capacity, we wouldn’t be able to,” Feehan added. “We needed the space just to be able to build the rockets that we needed.”
Last year, Northrop received a $792-million contract to develop its Omega rocket, which is intended to conduct national security launches for the U.S. Air Force.
Orbital ATK, which was acquired by Northrop last year for $7.8 billion, started developing the Omega in 2016 to discontinue the country’s reliance on Russian-made rocket engines for national security launches.
The Omega is one of the biggest rockets designed by Northrop and resulted in the company hiring hundreds of employees over the last couple of years.
Models of Omega were on display Tuesday around Northrop’s new campus as executives and public officials celebrated completion of the project.
The ceremony included skydivers jumping out of planes, tributes to military veterans, and jokes highlighting how Northrop’s campus was once nothing but dairy farmland.
“We have a rich heritage here in Arizona and our business here continues to grow,” said Blake Larson, Northrop’s corporate vice president.
The facility provides a better workplace for employees, he added, and will accommodate more growth in the future.
The new campus has a modernized, open layout that intentionally resembles the headquarters of Google or Amazon.
Workers of the Chandler campus recently helped launched a rocket to the international space station, Larson added, and helps the military stay alert 24/7 of incoming missiles.
“The work we do in Chandler is critical to our customers in our nation,” he added. “This team does amazing things.”
Elected officials commanded Northrop for helping to create more high-paying jobs in the city of Chandler.
“Chandler’s been leading in the state for some time,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. “This city is a driving force in Arizona’s economic growth.”
The aerospace defense industry has had a large footprint in Arizona and the East Valley for several years.
Northrop has two other campuses in Mesa and Gilbert. AQST Space Systems recently relocated its headquarters to Mesa. Titan Industries produces rocket parts through 3-D printers at its plant in Tempe.
According to the Arizona Commerce Authority, the aerospace industry employs more than 55,000 people and has an annual payroll of $4.92 billion.
Northrop claims payroll for its Chandler employees has grown by $40 million since 2017.