Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has broken ground on a new $350 million facility at its Waterton Canyon campus outside of Denver. The new building, called the Gateway Center, will use state-of-the-art technologies such as 3D printing and virtual reality to design and develop next-gen satellites.
The Gateway Center, which is expected to span 266,000 square feet and is scheduled for completion in 2020, is part of Lockheed Martin’s broader effort to advance and accelerate its aerospace production using innovative technologies and processes such as additive manufacturing.
Earlier this year, the company invested $1 million into an aerospace 3D printing lab at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, a move that was also indicative of its interest in new and future-oriented manufacturing methods.
According to Lockheed, its new Gateway Center will include a top-line high bay clean room which will be used to simultaneously build “a spectrum of satellites from micro to macro”; an expansive thermal vacuum chamber which will be used to simulate space environments for testing the satellites; an anechoic chamber for testing sensors and communication systems; and an advanced test operations and analysis center.
The facility will also seek certifications and security clearances in order to take on projects of a national security level. 3D printing and virtual reality were listed as additional technologies that will help the Gateway Center to meet production demands by increasing manufacturing speeds and turnover times, as well as lowering costs.
"This is our factory of the future: agile, efficient, and packed with innovations,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “We'll be able to build satellites that communicate with front-line troops, explore other planets, and support unique missions.”
“You could fit the Space Shuttle in the high bay with room to spare," Ambrose added. "That kind of size and versatility means we'll be able to maximize economies of scale, and with all of our test chambers under one roof, we can streamline and speed production."
Over the course of the site’s construction phase, Lockheed estimates that 1,500 contractors will be employed. The aerospace company has been steadily increasing its employment base in Colorado, adding more than 750 positions since 2014. In the Denver area, Lockheed currently has about 350 job openings. Understandably, the state government and local officials have been supportive of the aerospace boost headed by Lockheed.
"Aerospace is an engine of innovation and growth for America, and we're investing in infrastructure and technology to help strengthen the nation's leadership in military and commercial space and scientific exploration," explained Ambrose. "We're transforming every aspect of our operations to help our customers stay ahead of a rapidly changing landscape. The Gateway Center, coupled with advancements in 3D printing, virtual reality design, and smart payloads, will deliver game-changing innovations while saving our customers time and money."
Presently, Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Canyon campus outside of Denver employs over 4,000 people. In operation since the 1950s, the site has been critical for the development and production of the Air Force’s GPS III satellites, NOAA’s GOES-R weather satellites, and even NASA’s InSight Mars lander.
Lockheed’s Denver location was even selected as one of six partners for NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. Lockheed was chosen to refurbish a multi-purpose logistics module and transform it into a habitat prototype for deep space exploration.