Innovating for an Era of Affordability: The Future of the Space Industry

Rick Ambrose
Executive Vice President, Space Systems


2014 SciTech Morning Keynote
Washington, DC

January 14, 2014

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you, John, for that wonderful introduction.

I particularly appreciate John introducing me today.  As Lockheed Martin’s vice president for International Engineering and Technology, John exerts tremendous leadership in promoting international collaboration and building connections with customers, governments and universities. 

It’s all about advancing innovation and solving daunting challenges. That’s what we’re here to talk about today: innovating for a new era in our industry and solving big challenges.  And I can’t think of a better place for that conversation than here at the annual SciTech convention—or, as I prefer to think of it, the aerospace sector’s Super Bowl. As the organizers promise, “nowhere else will you find such breadth and depth of aerospace research, analysis, and foresight in a single location…” 

Which is another way of saying, nowhere else will you find so many men and women who know their Ka-band from their Ku-band… their low Earth from their highly elliptical… their NASA from their DARPA… their Galactica from their Gallifrey. And let me just say, if you didn’t get that, then you’ve registered for the wrong conference.  One exception to that, it’s a little unfair…if you’re under 40, you may need to go look up Gallifrey.

Today, I’d like to talk about how we at Lockheed Martin see the space environment changing… and how we’re trying to help our customers meet their vision for the future of space.

Of course, this audience understands better than most just how vital that future remains. Our space assets are ubiquitous—and so is the impact they have on people’s lives around the globe. They’ve sparked commercial advances, in ways that many Americans don’t even realize—from entertainment to ear thermometers… communications to cordless power and rescue, navigation and on and on. 

Our space capabilities bring humanity together in the thrill of cosmic voyages and exploration… thanks to incredible missions like Curiosity, Cassini, and Hubble that have opened our eyes to new worlds.  And that discovery just keeps growing. And soon, NASA’s Orion will join that list, someday taking us all the way to Mars.

And when it comes to national security, space enables the ultimate asymmetric advantage, providing global and persistent capabilities at the moments it matters most. 

At Lockheed Martin, we are privileged to deliver and operate space systems that give our military men and women a crucial warfighting edge...Enhancing their vision…Securing their ability to communicate on the move in the most challenging environments...Keeping them safe and bringing them home to the families standing behind them.

We’ve seen how our space assets make our military stronger… and civilians more secure. And we’ve seen how, sometimes, innovations that start with an aim of transforming our military capabilities can go on to change the world.

In 2011, during its 60th anniversary in Capetown, South Africa, the International Astronautical Federation marked the special occasion by creating a special award for the space system with the greatest impact on society. The vote was unanimous:  They chose the GPS program for its extraordinary role in improving the quality of life for humankind.

When General William Shelton accepted the award on behalf of the Air Force, it was a proud reminder for all of us who work in space that what we do makes a difference each day. And yet, today, we find our space enterprise challenged as never before.  We all remember seven years ago this week, when China obliterated an orbiting satellite. 

And other states, organizations, and even individuals have been flexing their space muscles too…From repressive regimes preventing broadcast transmissions…To drivers jamming GPS on the road. New technologies have put once-elite capabilities into mainstream hands. Want to know when a satellite will be overhead?  There’s an app for that.

 The pace of delivering new space capability is also making space more crowded and challenged. We may have had issues with George Clooney’s jet pack in Gravity, but certain aspects of that movie were more realistic than we’d wish.

Dozens of countries have hundreds of satellites orbiting overhead.  Tens if not hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris clutter the skies… and occasionally come back down to Earth – as our space budgets have recently, too.[i]

So, against this backdrop, it’s very clear that government and industry alike will have to change.  And we must change. As General Shelton explained at the National Space Symposium last April, the status quo just isn’t good enough anymore.

He laid out a vision for where we must go—a vision that we at Lockheed Martin fully support:

  • Make our space systems more resilient.
  • Make them more affordable.
  • And do so without compromising the capabilities on which our nation depends.

General Shelton called this the nexus of capability, affordability, and resilience.

At Lockheed Martin, we’re determined to help find the right balance—recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all. Different missions will have different sweet spots, whether we’re talking about missile warning… or communications… or precision navigation. We need to look at each case with an open mind, and apply the best analytical tools.

For decades we have honed our skill in understanding how to quantify the balance of capability and cost. But, up until now, there’s been no systematic, data-driven method for measuring a system’s resiliency. Over the last 18 months Lockheed Martin has invested in a comprehensive study to provide a methodology and set of tools for quantifying resilience. Ultimately, this study will help define the way forward for the space architecture we depend on.

We considered the full range of hazards our space assets confront today—from natural disasters… to operator error…to how we acquire and build… to hostile action… and more. We used a mission focus, to really understand each circumstance and need.

We’re now at the point where we can use this objective, systematic methodology to help our customers and ourselves make the best-informed decisions to secure their most important missions.  

Beyond providing tools to analyze future architectures, we’re innovating to improve the options in the nexus. A key focus of our effort is getting costs down, while preserving and even enhancing mission capabilities.

For example, in close collaboration with NASA, we’ve been able to save a billion dollars on the Orion program so far—by using more simulations, simplifying reporting requirements, and reducing the number of flight tests.

In addition, even though Orion’s subsystems and components come from all over the country, the spacecraft is fully assembled and integrated on-site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Operations and Checkout Facility in Florida. This enables the team to build the spacecraft efficiently, move it directly onto the launch vehicle, and then out to the launch pad—saving the significant transportation costs associated with tests and checkout.

Another great example is the work we’re doing to modernize our A-2100 platform. As some of you may know, we built the A-2100 satellite for commercial purposes.  What you may not know is that it’s also the centerpiece for many of our military satellites. Over a four-year period, Lockheed Martin is substantially investing in its modernization… looking for ways to reduce complexity even as we enhance capability.

This effort is paying dividends for affordability and efficiency, too. For instance, once we found a way to build the A2100 propulsion module with 34 percent fewer components, we were able to cut 40 percent off of the cost.

Not only that, but we shortened the build schedule by more than 60 percent. Plus, we’ve incorporated innovations that increase power, extend design on-orbit life by 20-40%, and improve platform flexibility.  So, we’re not just delivering a more cost effective spacecraft – we’re delivering a product that’s superior in many ways.

In addition, by driving commonality in parts and subsystems across several missions, we’re able to leverage economic order quantity and other efficiencies of scale… and also enable continuous flow of a common platform.

Today, the A2100 platform architecture has been evaluated for 15 different types of missions—both government and commercial—performing everything from communications to navigation to weather functions. This commonality means that we can use the same people to build different kinds of satellites in a single factory, using the same equipment, the same tools, the same skills… and squeezing out cost for our customer.

By 2016, this kind of streamlining will enable our Space Systems Company to eliminate millions of square feet in facilities, yielding a 50% reduction in product flow.

At the same time, we’ll be working to maximize the effectiveness of our remaining facilities. And, even as we consolidate our own footprint, we continue to energize the industrial base.  Lockheed Martin Space Systems has more than 1,000 suppliers in more than 35 states—and we’re working hard at every level of the value chain to deliver more mission per dollar for our customers.  

We’re also investing significantly in what we call “designing for affordability,” so that instead of our customer taking the enormous risk of reconceiving and reinventing the space architecture, we can evolve the current way of doing business in a way that provides real savings.   

One of the tools we’re using is what we call the digital tapestry. We’re weaving every aspect of system development into a seamless digital environment across all of our disciplines and teams. The slide in front of you is a representation of the digital tapestry, from conceptualization all the way to operations and sustainment.

Through most of its history, engineering design has been a paper-driven process. We’re trying to move fully beyond pen and paper to an integrated electronic domain—so people can work together with ease… with fewer opportunities for human error. It gives us new ways of improving performance, even before complex systems are built. Because, when we design in the digital space, engineers and manufacturers can work together in real-time. They can make sure the product, as it’s being conceived, won’t be excessively complex to build.

And this means we can solve problems before they become problems… while we’re still in the virtual world… which enables efficient and accurate assembly, once physical production begins.

One really cool aspect of this digital tapestry is something we call the CHIL… which stands for the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory.  (You can see why we use the acronym.)

The CHIL allows three-dimensional virtual reality, inspired by –what else – the gaming industry.  We turn our engineers and technicians into avatars and literally put them inside their designs, allowing them to explore their creations in an active, hands-on way. 

If they move their heads, their perspective changes.  If they kneel, they can get underneath the product.  They can even walk through layers of their design like it’s an MRI or a CAT scan. So often, when you’re in two-dimensional drawing space, it’s hard to identify the problems that exist in a 3-D environment.

But when the engineer and the technician and the manufacturer can actually meet in that third dimension, they can create a much better product—anticipating challenges all the way from construction to sustainment. They can ask themselves, “Will this part, as I’ve conceived it, actually fit where I want it to go?” Or, “How should I sequence assembly in the most efficient way?  Can I get a human being in there to access certain parts of the satellite?”

They can also use the CHIL to diagnose and tackle real-life problems—as we did not long ago, when it turned out that there was a problem with one of the electronic cards in one of our satellites.

If we opened up the satellite to access that card the way it was integrated, we’d have to remove the structure and disconnect 70 connectors.  That’s a risky process.  You could end up creating more problems and certainly require a lot more schedule time and regression testing had we done that.

But, using the CHIL, we were able to test and rehearse a much better solution: We could go into the structure, cut a hole in the side of a panel, pull out and replace the card in question, without disconnecting anything or causing any other damage to the satellite. So that’s exactly what we did.  It went without a hitch.  It saved months if not a year of time, if we would have had to do a retest.  And the satellite launched on schedule. 

We think the CHIL has enormous potential. Let me show you what it looks like in action…

Another element of the digital tapestry is automated manufacturing.  When designs exist electronically, we can program them straight into machines. Precision processes that once took many hours, such as satellite propellant line tube-bending and thermal protection spacecraft blanket-cutting, can now be performed automatically—saving time and reducing waste.  

The result is higher product quality, higher productivity levels, lower costs, and a smaller factory footprint. And one more aspect we’re really excited about is rapid prototyping. We are developing and now using a technique where we literally print aerospace parts.

We use an electronic beam to scan a table covered with titanium powder.  The beam melts the powder… and when the substance is cooled, it hardens into the form of a part. This process of additive manufacturing opens game-changing possibilities.  It allows you to build precision parts that cannot be machined any other way. And because these parts are lightweight, it means the satellite can be lighter too, which means that it’s a lower cost to get it into orbit.  So the savings are built in throughout the system.

The Holy Grail would be if we could transmit an entire design to one of these machines, and literally print out a satellite or a sensor or a complex component… all at once… all in one piece. Imagine how cost effective that would be.  Imagine how efficient.

And it isn’t the stuff of science fiction.  We’re working to make it real. With technologies like these, Lockheed Martin is already transforming our production processes. And not just in the large space systems for which we are often associated.  We are applying these innovations along with our history of over 300 payloads and 150 small sats that augment our mission architectures.

We’ll keep working to help our customers meet their vision for the future of space—and to balance competing priorities in a smart and sustainable way.  We know there will have to be tradeoffs.  We’re determined to get them right.

Enhancing space capability is critical to improving the quality of life around the globe. Reducing cost is essential to help our customers be successful when their budgets are declining. And ensuring these capabilities are available when needed is crucial for national security—and for bringing our warfighters home to their loved ones, victorious and safe.

We are confident our industry can achieve that nexus… and we’re confident that, together, we will achieve that nexus.

Thanks very much.

Rick Ambrose

Executive Vice President, Space Systems Rick Ambrose

aiaa on Broadcast Live Free

CHIL - Collaborative Human Immersive Lab

The future is now.  No longer the subject of science fiction, immersive virtual reality is a powerful manufacturing tool that is revolutionizing the way we design and build modern spacecraft and aircraft.