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Raytheon completes $9.2 million Space Factory expansion

A Space Factory inspector reviews a high-precision assembly for an exoatmospheric kill vehicle.

The Space Factory is growing.

Raytheon has completed a 9,600-square foot, $9.2 million expansion of its Space Systems Operations factory on the outskirts of Tucson, strengthening the company’s ability to create rocket-propelled “kill vehicles” that hunt down and destroy ballistic missiles in space.

A team led by Sharon Walk, Space Systems Operations director, leveraged years of space systems production experience to optimize the expansion.

“There is a lot of know-how contained within these factory walls,” said Walk. “There is no other factory like this. What you see here is the best in the world when it comes to kill vehicle development.”

Similar to how a satellite hitches a ride into space, Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles (EKVs) are encased in the nose of ground-based interceptors that blast them out of the earth’s atmosphere. The interceptors are launched from subterranean silos in both California and Alaska, providing the U.S.’s first line of defense against long-range ballistic missile attacks.

Smaller kill vehicles are deployed in the tip of Standard Missile-3 interceptors on U.S. and Japanese ships at sea, providing regional defense against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This year, SM-3s will also be land-based for the first time in Romania, as part of the U.S. commitment to missile defense in Europe.

“This factory is a reflection of our commitment and dedication to delivering the next-generation of kill vehicles,” said Wes Kremer, Air and Missile Defense Systems vice president. “We’re on track to deliver 11 new EKVs by 2018, and it will also give us the capacity we need to begin producing the first SM-3 Block IIA rounds.”

The space factory is nearly 47,000 square feet in size, including Class 4 through 8 clean zones and custom workspaces with bench testing equipment rooms.

The Space Factory is equipped with ultra clean, high-tech machinery such as this articulated arm for handling telescope-seeker assemblies.

“We had to make sure we had the right level of cleanliness to handle the most sensitive seekers,” said Walk. Performance and low particulate counts were main drivers for the new clean room modernization and expansion, she added.

The factory’s cleanliness is one of its claims to fame. Workers don clean-room suits to assemble optics and sensors with the knowledge that once in space, the kill vehicle’s ‘eyes’ will need to pick out warheads, which initially are nothing more than pinpoints of light in a distance space.

Within the clean spaces, everything is measured and counted, including drops of humidity and microscopic dust particles.

As Vic Wagner, director of Advanced Kill Vehicles, often says “We’re measuring photons. That’s how tight we are.”

Kremer and Walk agree; there is no room for error.

“What’s here is second to none,” said Wagner. “The expansion showcases our kill vehicle knowledge, expertise and infrastructure, which is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.”

Published: 03/30/2015

Last Updated: 02/01/2017

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