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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Lockheed’s Ambrose Explains Space Affordability

    Tuesday, 14 January 2014

    By Ben Iannotta, posted at 11:15 a.m. EST, 14 January 2014


    AmbroseNASA and the Defense Department want satellites and strategies that are more affordable but still resilient to human error, engineering mistakes or attack.

    Lockheed Martin has heard the message, said Richard F. Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed’s Space Systems Company.

    “It’s clear – very clear – that the government with industry, partnered with industry, we have to change,” Ambrose said in a keynote address today at the AIAA SciTech conference.

    He said it’s possible to improve affordability and still make satellites more resilient, but resiliency improvements have been difficult to gauge. “Up until now, there’s been no systematic, data-driven method for measuring resilience,” he said.

    So, over the last 18 months Lockheed has invested in development of a “methodology and a set of tools for quantifying resilience,” he said.

    The methodology considers the full range of hazards to satellites, from natural disasters to operator errors and attacks.

    “We’re now at a point where we can use this objective, systematic methodology to help our customers…and ourselves make the best informed decisions to secure the most important missions,” he said.

    Ambrose said space debris remains a prominent threat: “We may have had issues with George Clooney’s jet pack in ‘Gravity,’ but certain aspects of that movie were more realistic than we wished. Dozens of countries have hundreds of satellites orbiting overhead,” he said.

    He quipped that this debris sometimes falls to Earth, “as our space budgets recently have too.”

    Affordability will be key, but Ambrose said that doesn’t necessarily mean capabilities must be sacrificed. He said Lockheed has wrung a billion dollars out of spending on NASA’s Orion crew capsule “by using more simulations, simplifying reporting requirements, and reducing the number of flight tests.”

    The company is also modernizing the design and construction approach for its A2100 satellite frames, which form the backbone of a variety of commercial and government satellites. “Once we found a way to build the A2100 propulsion module with 34 percent fewer components, we were able to cut 40 percent of its cost,” he explained.

    Shifting to common parts and practices is also a major theme for the company: “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 to squeeze out a lot of cost to our customers.”

    As a cost saving measure, Lockheed is making progress toward the use of virtual reality in prototyping through its Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory, called the CHIL. Staff don virtual reality headgear to visualize and practice how they’ll undertake complex projects.

    “We want to get to a point where we, collectively, can prototype in a virtual world before we ever touch the physical world,” Ambrose explained.


    (Image: Richard F. (Rick) Ambrose, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, delivers the keynote address at SciTech 2014 on "Innovating for an Era of Affordability: THe Future fo the Space Industry")