To Infinity and Beyond . . . Via the Assembly Line

September 23, 2011
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The Spaceship Co. just opened a "factory for the final frontier" in California’s Mohave Desert.

Some day in the near distant future, astronauts may blast into space using a spacecraft assembled at a 68,000-square-foot plant that just opened in a remote region of California’s Mohave Desert. The Spaceship Co. (TSC, a joint-venture of Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic) believes its new Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (FAITH) marks the beginning of a new era of private space exploration.

Assemblers inside the $8 million facility will soon begin building the world’s first fleet of commercial spaceships (SpaceShipTwos) and carrier aircraft (WhiteKnightTwos) intended to make regular, commercial, manned space travel a reality. Their goal of making space access "safe, reliable and affordable" will begin on the assembly line.

“Within this new facility-the world’s first purpose-built hangar for commercial manned spacecraft production assembly and integration-we will produce the highest quality commercial spaceflight systems,” says Enrico Palermo, vice president of operations at TSC. “We plan to start the assembly of our first vehicles in 2012, once we are sufficiently into the subcomponent fabrication process.

“We are in the process of installing production equipment,” adds Palermo. “We [already] have an existing 48,000-square-foot at Mojave Air and Spaceport that is fully operational where we are already fabricating composite components for the vehicles.”

Although TSC will be a low-volume manufacturer, it’s employing state-of-the art lean production principles, such as point-of-use inventory and tools; workcell-based production; standardized processes and procedures; and a kanban system for material replenishment.

“[We are also focusing on] waste minimization; value-stream mapping; and resource leveling,” says Palermo. “And, we’re employing paperless work instructions via our Oracle-based system and CATIA-based definition where appropriate.”

Palermo hopes the new facility, located a short sonic boom away from Edwards Air Force Base, will attract top-notch talent. “Despite the current state of the U.S. economy and rising unemployment, this is a strong time of growth for TSC,” he points out. “We are creating excellent, high-skilled job opportunities for individuals with aerospace, engineering and hands-on space program experience. We want employees who are passionate about developing new and innovative ways of accessing space.”

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