York Space Expands Denver Facility to Accelerate Spacecraft Production

The existing company building on the left, with a rendering of the planned expansion on the right.

York Space Systems

York Space, which builds spacecraft for customers wishing to operate satellites in orbit, on Tuesday announced an expansion of its production facilities at the company’s headquarters in Denver, Colo.

“This ‘mega-facility’ will really be a true high-throughput production for the demand we’re seeing in the commercial and government markets right now,” York Space CEO Dirk Wallinger told CNBC, saying it added “real robust production capacity. to help secure our supply chain and help us expand the contracts we work on with existing customers. “

The new York facility will quadruple the company’s total footprint, adding approximately 100,000 square feet next to its current headquarters. Wallinger said the company’s existing facility could already manufacture “up to 1,000 spacecraft a year,” but the expansion, which is expected to open 18 to 24 months, “will blow that out of the water in with regard to the total production capacity ”.

Wallinger noted that York’s capabilities have steadily improved since its founding in 2015, from four spacecraft at a time to 20 simultaneously prior to the expansion.

“We understand how to make the products on a large scale… right now we’re about three months away [to build a spacecraft]”Wallinger said.” The new installation will reduce it to 30 days. “

A “ more traditional ” commercial growth path

Unlike many space companies founded over the past decade, Wallinger said York was not backed by venture capital – with “a few very powerful traditional funders” behind the company, of which the CEO did. not disclosed.

“We’re more traditional in our approach,” Wallinger said. “We were very fortunate to be able to see the contracts, execute them and grow the business.”

York has won contracts for the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency, the US military and a number of private clients. Wallinger estimated that York’s current spacecraft orders are split 65% to 35% between government and corporations, with the latter often asking for strict nondisclosure agreements.

“We’re seeing a lot more of that with Fortune 500 companies,” Wallinger said. “They’re starting to get involved in space, but they’re not talking about it.”

Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, Wallinger said, ranging from imagery of the Earth to “cybersecurity communications.” “Global companies” have increased demand for the latter service, according to the executive.

This is because companies understand that vulnerabilities in communication systems are “no longer acceptable,” so more and more companies are turning to in-house space systems, he said.

The spacecraft smartphone

The S-CLASS platform, designed for missions for a wide variety of government and commercial customers.

York Space Systems

York’s main spacecraft, the S-CLASS, is about the size of a household oven. The compact design of the spacecraft, as well as the reduction in size of the spacecraft over the past two decades – which has gone from a spacecraft the size of a school bus to some as small as a letterbox – is analogous to what has happened to smartphones over the years.

“Phones have gotten smaller and smaller,” Wallinger said.

But after years of downsizing spacecraft, customers are now pushing design the other way around. York unveiled its LX-CLASS spacecraft platform last month, reusing 90% of the S-CLASS’s hardware and software while tripling its power and available payload volume.

“Now people are paying more for the extra large iPhone, that’s right, because they want more capacity. This basic trajectory that we’ve seen with phones is what we’re seeing with satellites as well.” , Wallinger said.

IPO a “ possibility ”

Electron’s 16th launch in November 2020, when the company picked up the rocket after a splashdown for the first time.

Rocket lab

York Space is “not quite” ready to go public, but Wallinger said an IPO was “a possibility.”

“It’s not necessarily an issue in the sand and where we’re all set to go, but it’s a possibility for us,” Wallinger said. “We are really focused on execution.”

In the wider space market, Wallinger noted that more and more rocket builders are also trying to “settle into building spaceships,” such as Rocket Lab or Astra. York doesn’t care about the competition, as Wallinger said, “our customers don’t want to be tied to a rocket,” like “if you have a problem with a rocket, you’re not compatible” for some. start another.

In addition, although there are “a lot” of rockets in development, Wallinger believes that the supply of American-made orbital-class rockets remains limited. This sector is currently led by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Rocket Lab, with Virgin Orbit recently joined after its first successful orbital launch.

“We hear a ton of demand, [so] I think it’s important that we continue to invest in the infrastructure and the capacity of the launchers. We don’t want to depend so much on foreign companies to put government assets in space, “Wallinger said.” If York can make a lot of satellites, but we can’t put them into orbit, that’s going to be a problem. challenge. “

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