In some ways, NASA’s journey to send humans back to the moon and beyond runs through the Baltimore region.
Adjacent to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a three-story, 55,000-square-foot complex sits on the grounds of Northrop Grumman’s company site, with offices and production areas equipped with environmentally-controlled 10K- and 100K-class clean rooms, remote sensing, robotic technology and augmented reality devices.
It’s the company’s newest — and largest — Maryland Space Assembly and Test facility.
After engineers walk down a corridor and past offices, they place their belongings into a tier of industrial lockers before dressing in white lab coats, shoe covers, hair nets, masks and sometimes goggles. The building is an active construction site that opened this week as the company’s second space assembly and test facility.
Northrop Grumman designs and builds aerospace and defense technology. And as the U.S. enters an era of sending humans to the moon and beyond, MSAT2 — as the new facility is referred to — connects some of the company’s existing buildings, including its first space assembly and test facility.
The newly-erected building will be used for “more efficient” phased development and integrated testing, officials said.
The company confirmed it is not testing Artemis I — the powerful rocket designed to send humans to deep space — in its new facility. But the company did manufacture the largest rocket boosters in the world, which “will provide over 75 percent of the rocket’s thrust at launch for the first in a series of Artemis missions,” according to a release. NASA is planning to launch Artemis later this month.
“Our continued investment in Maryland helps meet our customer needs while strengthening our commitments to this community and our workforce,” said Scott Lee, vice president of payload and ground systems. “The new digitally integrated MSAT2 grows our advanced manufacturing, assembly and test capabilities as we continue to deliver end-to-end space solutions with speed and agility.”
Northrop Grumman began construction in 2014 on the first MSAT building, a $20 million structure where as many as 80 engineers and technicians would work.
According to the company, some jobs that once required engineers to complete by hand will now be completed “16-times faster” by machines. The company did not say how many people will be on the floor of the new facility.
In space, there’s no air. So the company’s biggest thermal vacuum chamber on the East Coast imitates the experience of weather conditions that a rocket go through to ensure an uninterrupted journey. The chamber is housed in the new building.
“Large enough to fit two midsize sedans end to end, and weighing 106,000 pounds, this state-of-the-art steel chamber simulates the harsh thermal conditions of space, allowing engineers to subject payloads that are larger in size and quantity to extreme temperature variations and ensure uninterrupted performance,” Lee said.
The company, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, employs over 13,000 people — including over 1,600 military veterans — in Maryland.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said that he was “really proud” the company expanded its facilities in the county and increased workforce opportunities.
“The workforce here really is unrivaled. When lawmakers in Washington have to make decisions about where we want to advocate or cover city appropriations, processes, identifying resources and opportunities, that can flow to companies across the country that are doing meaningful things, to know that the workforce has the kind of quality and credentials that the Northrop Grumman workforce has, makes it easier for us to advocate,” Pittman said.
He also highlighted that Northrop Grumman is the only company in the county using a foreign tax trade zone designation. This means the company can use foreign items domestically before formal customs entry, according to the International Trade Administration.