The Development Problem With Space

The United States spent decades building a deep knowledge and manufacturing base for space and satellite systems, but now is faced with some troubling trend lines in the industry, a panel of senior space executives said at AFA’s Air & Space Conference Tuesday. Jeff Grant, the vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s space systems division, noted that for many years, from the early 1980s onward, a great deal of large complex programs were under development and required a broad range of expertise—from payloads engineering, to micro electronics and communications. From about 1985 to 2000, a great deal of non-recurring developmental work took place in many systems, and engineers were moved around to different projects frequently. Today, most of the work involved in space programs is non-developmental, and a lack of this type of work threatens the ability of the space sector to maintain proficiencies, he noted. “We had much more development occurring. Now there are no new programs so there is excess capacity,” said Mark Valerio, vice president and GM of Lockheed Martin’s Surveillance and Navigation Systems in the company’s space systems branch. The commercial market is relied on more, and the industry is right-sizing for production purposes. “We need to be careful we don’t get rid of skilled workers” amidst these disappearing development projects, Valerio noted. “Design engineers do not get energized by building the same thing over and over again,” he added.