An expansion project for Orbital Sciences Corp. in Chandler will give the company more room to develop and manufacture a new, more powerful rocket to supply the International Space Station and launch other payloads for commercial and government customers.
The medium-class rocket, called the Taurus II, is three times bigger than the biggest launch vehicle offered by Orbital today and will be the key to the company’s future growth, said David W. Thompson, chairman and chief executive of the Dulles, Va.-based company.
“It will allow us to address a bigger part of the market,” he said in an interview prior to groundbreaking ceremonies at Orbital’s expansion project Thursday. “It will double the potential market size that we can serve in the next two to three years.”
Orbital already has about 100 engineers working on Taurus II design work in Chandler, and that number is expected to double in the next year, he said.
“Right now the focus of our work is to complete the engineering, and parts of the first rocket will be coming together at about this time next year,” he said.
The first prototype of the two-stage rocket will be launched in 2010 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
At a time when most businesses are cutting back and laying off workers, Orbital continues to expand because of a heavy backlog of contracts for government and commercial space launches. Also the company is deeply involved in the national Missile Defense System, building both target rockets for testing the system and interceptor missiles.
But with defense spending likely to come under increase scrutiny following this year’s election, Thompson said the Taurus II program will probably be the major driver of the company’s future growth in Chandler.
The $320 million Taurus II development program is being funded by a combination of NASA and Orbital’s own money.
The Chandler expansion project will initially provide room for about 330 employees in a single building at the northwest corner of Price and Dobson Roads. Later phases will add two more buildings and will provide room for nearly 1,000 additional workers.
Orbital employs about 1,500 people now at its Chandler plant at the southwest corner of the Price-Dobson intersection and at two satellite locations.
One of the purposes of the expansion is to bring the scattered workers onto a single campus, said Ron Grabe, general manager of the company’s Launch Systems Group.
The first-phase building is expected to be completed by Labor Day next year, he said.