Millennium is working with Boeing to meet smallsat demand

EL SEGUNDO, California — Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary best known for building small satellites for national security applications, is working closely with its parent company to prepare for rapid production of spacecraft for government and commercial constellations.

Millennium is building a dedicated small-satellite factory in the 93,000-square-meter manufacturing facility where Boeing has produced 300 satellites. When Millennium’s factory becomes operational in the fourth quarter of this year, the company will be able to assemble, integrate and test constellations of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of satellites, Millennium CEO Jason Kim said during a news conference on March 29th.

At its original facility a mile away, Millennium will continue to build prototypes, the satellite equivalent of concept cars.

Once a prototype is complete and a satellite is designed for manufacturability, “we take it to the small satellite factory where we can run it at scale,” said Michelle Parker, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Launch.

Millennium, a 500-person company founded in 2001, has built satellites for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US Air Force and the US Space Force.

Since its acquisition by Boeing in 2018, Millennium has relied on the aerospace giant’s expertise in manufacturing and mission assurance, as well as in expanding into new markets.

“We are working with Millennium to not only increase manufacturing capabilities, but also to increase the size and range of missions their spacecraft can support,” said Ryan Reid, president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems International.

In return, Millennium shares its unique approach with Boeing.

“Not only are they bringing the platforms and technologies for smaller satellites, but also the rapid prototyping and the way they innovate,” said Parker. “The way Millennium does design, development and rapid prototyping is something we want to infuse into all of our space products.”

Both the government and commercial satellite markets have undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Orders for large geostationary communications satellites have ebbed and flown as companies began building constellations of smaller satellites in low and medium earth orbit.

On the commercial side, “we are seeing the market evolve from what was originally a geostationary market to a rapidly producing multi-orbit, multi-scale, multi-orbit market,” Parker said.

At the same time, government customers are trying to improve the resilience of their space-based assets “through diversity, whether it’s orbital diversity, size, mission life diversity,” Parker said.

By integrating with Millennium, Boeing has expanded its portfolio.

The aerospace giant continues to build large, high-throughput geostationary communications satellites for clients such as Indonesia’s Viasat and Pasifik Satelit Nusantara. For SES’s O3b mPOWER constellation, Boeing manufactures software-defined satellites intended for medium-Earth orbit that are a fraction of the size of the geostationary spacecraft.

Still, the mPower satellites, with a dry mass of 1,900 kilograms, dwarf Millennium spacecraft, which typically weigh less than 1,000 kilograms.

The integration with Millennium allows Boeing to look for “the best total solution for customers,” Parker said. “It could be a combination of sizes and orbits. It could be a special development.”

If small satellites are the solution to a particular mission, “Millennium gives us the ability to quickly build them in our small satellite fab,” said Parker.

For example, Millennium could help Boeing produce satellites for a non-geostationary broadband constellation. In November, the Federal Communications Commission approved Boeing’s application for a 147-satellite constellation.

“We are actively working with partners and seeking further technological advances and working with Jason’s team,” said Reid. “Having Millennium with us as part of this journey I believe is a necessary and beneficial element to our overall success.”

This story originally appeared in the April 4, 2022 issue of SpaceNews Space Symposium Show Daily.

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