U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Demand Not Sufficient For Stable Workforce

U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Demand Not Sufficient For Stable Workforce

As part of a panel discussion devoted to the health of the global aerospace industrial base, Fred Doyle, Vice President of Ball Aerospace, told the International Commercial Remote Sensing Symposium (ICRSS) Thursday that companies have to “balance labor demands” in order to avoid workforce gaps and that current demand for commercial remote sensing satellites is “not sufficient to maintain [a] stable workforce.”

Doyle showed a graph illustrating the labor demand during the multi-year process of design, integration, and testing required to build one of their commercial remote sensing satellites, such as Worldview 1 or Worldview 2. Noticeable in the chart was a marked reduction in demand during project transition, one that Doyle said could be as long as four years for designers. Ball Aerospace has managed to retain workers by assigning them to other programs, but Doyle said the company recognizes that workforce sustainability is an issue.

Explaining that a “stable industrial base requires a mix of commercial and government orders,” he nevertheless cautioned that long-troubled government programs like the Space Based Infrared Satellite System (SBIRS) and the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) become major obstacles because they “suck up” the government’s discretionary funds that might otherwise go to new programs. When money is diverted towards these big, long-term projects, there is little likelihood that the government will fund new, smaller, startup programs, he said.

Doyle expressed hope in a brighter future. Emerging market changes include the Obama Administration’s FY2011 budget proposal that envisions more earth observation satellites, promised revision of International Trade in Arms Regulation (ITAR) restrictions, and a recognition of commercial imagery as an element of the U.S. government’s national imagery architecture. “Government decisions will continue to drive the commercial viability of the industry,” he concluded, since commercial demand “does not support a stand-alone industrial base.”

Speaking more broadly about the worldwide earth observation satellite market, Dr. Reinold Lutz, Managing Director of Astrium, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), said that there is stable, growing activity in Europe. Astrium estimates worldwide demand for commercial and dual-use Earth observation satellites will double in the next decade, from 50 to more than 100. He added that Astrium’s workforce actually grew 9% in 2008 and 4% in 2009. However, much of this activity is focused on government programs such as the 12 billion German High Tech Initiative. Additionally, approximately 75% of Astrium’s business is for the European Space Agency.

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.