As part of celebrations marking 50 years of continuous satellite development at its El Segundo site in California, Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems showed members of the media around part of its vast production and test site.
Covering more than 1 million square feet, Boeing Satellite Development Center is the largest satellite factory in the world, and today is bustling with activity with 26 vehicles under assembly and test. In addition, Boeing is also currently working on at least two classified satellites at the site, the presence of one of which was indicated by a sealed-off area of the high bay facility.
One of the latest satellites, and Boeing’s first BSS702 medium power (MP) vehicle, is about to roll off the line and enter an arduous phase of testing. Once through the gauntlet, Intelsat’s IS22 communications satellite is due to launch in early 2012 and will be positioned some 22,300 miles overhead the Indian Ocean. The first 702MP is also the first Boeing satellite to be made with a hosted payload – in this case a UHF communications system for the Australian Defence Force.
The first 702MP for Intelsat nears completion -- note the top-mounted antenna farm for the hosted Australian military UHF comms payload. (Guy Norris)
Other vehicles either complete or nearing completion include several GPS IIFs, three Block II U.S. Defense Department WGS (Wideband Global Satcom) satellites, a Boeing 601HP-based Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-K) for NASA and the second SkyTerra geomobile satellite, complete and ready for launch.
All of these sophisticated, state-of-the-art vehicles seem light years ahead of the rudimentary, suitcase-sized satellite that sits on display in the lobby of the building. This is the diminutive Syncom, the world’s first geosynchronous communications satellite and the grand-daddy of them all. Developed by Hughes Space and Communications Company beginning in 1961, the first Syncom made it into orbit in February 1963 but failed to operate.
Syncom 2 - the one that started it all. (Guy Norris)
The vehicle on display is the ground test model of the follow-on Syncom 2, the first to operate successfully. Just a month after launch in July that year it was used to relay the first live two-way call between two heads of state when President John F Kennedy called from the White House to speak with Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa on a U.S. Navy ship in Lagos Harbor.
Weighing in at around 78lb, the tiny Syncom 2 was spin-stabilized, covered in solar cells and sported small rod-antennas. To the continuing puzzlement of all those who choose to examine the vehicle closely, there is also a distinctive little switch sticking out of its side. Nobody seems quite sure what this is, though there are theories it was to simply turn the thing on!