PARIS — Satellite- and rocket-component manufacturer Ruag Space of Europe continued its Americanization on July 11 with the inauguration of a new facility in Florida in the presence of its anchor customer, startup internet constellation operator OneWeb.
The event, at the new Port Canaveral Titusville Logistic Center, was the latest display of Florida’s all-hands-on-deck approach to attracting space-hardware companies to the region around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Ruag will be building satellite panels for OneWeb’s broadband constellation, which features some 720 satellites in orbit at the start and a production run — mainly from a new plant in nearby Exploration Park — of around 900 satellites, each weighing about 150 kilograms.
Ruag Space Chief Executive Peter Guggenbach said the facility, which should be producing panels for three satellites per week at its peak, “shows that we are willing to invest if we strongly believe in a project, along with that region.”
Present in five nations in Europe and four locales in the U.S.
Ruag Space employs some 1,260 people in Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Finland and Germany, including the four U.S. facilities now established. Earlier this year, Ruag opened a plant in Alabama at United Launch Alliance, for which Ruag builds rocket payload fairings.
The company also builds fairings for Europe’s Ariane and Vega rockets.
In 2016, Ruag Space reported revenue of 345 million francs ($357 million), with an EBITDA margin of 9.3%.
The multiple Florida government agencies responsible for pulling space business to the state had hoped that securing the OneWeb production facility here with a series of cash and non cash incentives would ultimately attract OneWeb’s supply base.
When you’re building three satellites a day it’s helpful to have the major subcontractors in the same neighborhood.
OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defense and Space, has two production lines at the Florida facility, with a third located at Airbus’s Toulouse, France, campus. But Florida is where the vast majority of OneWeb satellites are to be built before being shipped to one of several Russian spaceports for launches aboard Russian Soyuz rockets.
Ruag has told Florida officials that it expects to have 25 full-time employees at the satellite-panel production facility in less than two years, with most of the growth coming from the OneWeb project, whose satellite launches are scheduled to start in March 2018. OneWeb has said its production site will employ 250 people.
Ruag Space said its 50-person U.S. division will more than double in size “in the coming months.”
For Florida and OneWeb Satellites, a test will come once OneWeb satellite production passes peak volume and starts to decline. The company hopes to win non-OneWeb-related business from other satellite constellations by demonstrating the versatility of its satellite bus and the cost advantages of the production methods OneWeb is developing.
To make its cost and production targets, Ruag and OneWeb are making full use of assembly-line robots. In Ruag’s case, it’s called an Automated Potting Machine to place inserts onto the satellite panel for later attachment of sensors.
Ruag said a standard communications satellite, which is at least 10 times the size of the OneWeb spacecraft, typically has between 5,000 and 10,000 inserts, which up to now have been created manually.
The Automated Potting Machine will reduce insert production time by 80%, Ruag said.
Ruag expects to deliver the first batch of panels to OneWeb by September.