Built space tough
Our space systems are continually bombarded with solar radiation, and regularly undergo temperature changes from -55⁰ C to 125⁰ C. Further, they must withstand launch and operations in the merciless environment of Earth's orbit and beyond. Here's how we’re building our products space tough.
If you have used GPS or an ATM, you have benefited from BAE Systems' space solutions to get where you need to go or withdraw funds from your bank account, even if you didn't realize it.
BAE Systems and its legacy companies' products have enabled space exploration since the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. All told, the company's technology in Earth's orbit has totaled more than 10,000 years of flight time over more than 25 years. This heritage ranges from the first GVSC 1750 processor developed in 1990 – which is now on more than 150 satellites – to present day, where our first 45-nanometer application-specific integrated circuits offer 10 times the on-board processing speed at a third of the size of other similar products on the market.
Over this time, BAE Systems has established a number of revolutionary space manufacturing processes to stay ahead of the market. For instance, the company evaluates its products by using a unique dual-beam focused ion beam instrument to view cross sections of computer chip circuits by milling away at the structure "atom by atom," according to John Davis, an Engineering manager in Manassas, Virginia. The device has such a strong magnification that participants in our Women in Technology STEM program use it to write their names on the point of a needle as a practice exercise.
BAE Systems reached the 10,000-years-of-flight milestone in May, and just as impressive is the fact that, over that time, no mission failures were due to the company's computers, according to Steve Danziger, space systems Quality manager and site executive of the Manassas, Virginia, location.
"Our customers view this as a remarkable quality record, especially when you consider that space is the harshest environment known, with extreme radiation and temperatures that need to be endured for 20-year missions," he said. "This legacy is a critical component for our customers – entrusting us to be on the most-critical missions of exploration and defense."
Such experience within the field is required when looking at the environment in which satellites and other space assets operate. These systems are continually bombarded with solar radiation, which accelerates the aging of electronic parts and materials if not properly protected. They also regularly undergo temperature changes from -55⁰ C to 125⁰ C. Further, space products must undergo more-rigorous vibration testing than aircraft components to ensure they can withstand launch and operations in the merciless environment of Earth's orbit and beyond.
Adding to the complexity of space product requirements is the fact that it requires roughly 10 pounds of fuel for every pound of payload launched into space.
As it is not feasible to conduct in-service repairs of equipment in orbit, all of these factors must be considered when manufacturing and testing space products. For example, BAE Systems performs lot acceptance sample testing on components that applies a 15-year "dose" of radiation to ensure our products can withstand the radiation they will endure over the life of the systems.
Due to contract wins and new program pursuits over the last few years – and increased production volumes as a result – BAE Systems forecasts it will triple its space systems manufacturing employee population in the next five years.
A Profile in Space Manufacturing: Tuyet Bach
Tuyet Bach, an Operations manager in Manassas, Virginia, has spent her 20-plus-year career at the site. While many of her college classmates concentrating in chemical engineering went on to careers within chemical or petroleum industries, Bach always wanted to work in an advanced electronics-manufacturing environment.
"Space work is extremely challenging and exciting," she said. "It's a wonderful feeling to know that the product that my team and I build are the brains and the hearts of many satellite systems. I feel so lucky to work on products that touch so many lives around the globe and to help our warfighters in the field. I work with so many smart and talented team members who all do whatever it takes to deliver what our customers ask."
Bach champions a "zero-defect" mindset in the factories she manages to extend ES' legacy of never having a space system fail in orbit continues. The Manassas, Virginia, site has almost two full years of delivering product without a single shipped defect.
By Jason Simpson, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire