Site: Boeing North American, Inc.
1101 Seal Beach Blvd.
Seal Beach, CA 90740

Date Visited: June 23, 1997

WTEC: N. Helm (report author), W. Brandon, C. Mahle, H.E. Senasack



Boeing North American (BNA), Inc. acquired this Seal Beach facility in late 1996 from North American Rockwell. The multi-building facility was used by Rockwell to build large defense and space hardware including Apollo launch vehicle stages. Boeing has two major divisions: commercial space (primarily airplanes), and defense and space. This Seal Beach facility was acquired to enhance the capabilities of the defense and space division.


The first 44 Navistar global positioning system (GPS) satellites were built at this Seal Beach facility. This was the largest number of a similar series of spacecraft ever built. Thus, assembly-line techniques were established for spacecraft during a period of time when nearly all satellites were individually hand built. Today, the commercial use of the GPS system is growing much faster than the defense uses. In the satellite industry, GPS receivers are being built into onboard tracking and navigation systems for internal and external positioning.

The new IIF block of GPS satellites will have a 15 year design life (12.7 year contractual life), weigh 4,550 lbs, with 1,560 W of power EOL. The satellites will be built to be compatible with the overall GPS constellation, but will improve the navigation accuracy to three meters. This will include the use of UHF crosslinks. The cost of a GPS satellite has declined from $44 million in the initial acquisition to $26 million for the IIF series. To keep the production costs low for the new IIF satellites, improved assembly line and test procedures will be employed by BNA. The first IIF satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2001.


CompactSat is a new family of flexible, low cost communications satellites built with the know-how that has come out of the GPS legacy, but with the modern facilities that have been installed for the new GPS block IIF series. Boeing North America is planning to market this new modular family of spacecraft to fit many applications and designs. For example, the CompactSat bus can support payloads in the L, S, C, Ku, Ka-bands and/or hybrid combinations of those bandwidths. The payload power can range from 2,500 to 5,000 W with a mass of 165 to 400 kg.


A formal relationship now exits between Boeing and Teledesic. The Boeing North American experience is now being passed on to the Teledesic program in the form of BNA engineering teams that have been assigned to Teledesic. This engineering gives Teledesic a much higher level of technical legitimacy. The recent Teledesic design changes reflect this increased level of spacecraft maturity and know-how.


The BNA integration and test facilities were upgraded and improved for the new GPS IIF series. These facilities include one of the largest thermal vacuum chambers in the world with a working area of 25 ft wide X 30 ft long and 19 ft high. In addition there is a dynamic balance table, a spacious anechoic chamber and acoustic, infrared test chambers. These facilities are equipped to handle up to eight spacecraft at one time.


The BNA hosts were gracious and open in sharing their thoughts for improved government/industry cooperation. They noted that government activities in three areas: spectrum, technology and finance/tax benefits, could be extremely helpful to industry. The spectrum area included faster coordination and approval of frequencies. Technology in launch systems, laser crosslinks and superconductivity were mentioned. Finally, tax benefits for R&D and improved access to capital were deemed important.


Boeing North America has a satellite legacy with the GPS program that saw the use of a modular assembly line that built a series of identical satellites. New integration and test facilities for the block IIF series of 33 spacecraft will be successful in reducing costs. The CompactSat commercial family of flexible satellites built around a GPS bus should make BNA competitive in the small to medium size satellite market.

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian