Ball opens satellite testing, assembly center

BOULDER – Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. opened the doors – actually, the single giant industrial door – on Friday to the new facility it believes will keep the Boulder-based company at the forefront of an increasingly competitive aerospace industry.

Ball Aerospace, a subsidiary of Broomfield-based Ball Corp. (NYSE: BLL), unveiled the new 90,000-square-foot expansion of the satellite testing and assembly center at its Fisher Integration Facility at 1600 Commerce St. The building, which includes new cleanrooms and testing equipment, is the last piece in a $75 million capital investment program that allowed Ball Aerospace to improve and expand facilities in Boulder and Westminster.

The addition will give Ball Aerospace the ability to double the number of satellites it works on at a time and to build and test larger satellites, president and chief executive David Taylor said. The testing instruments include a thermal vacuum chamber to simulate conditions in orbit and a giant vibrating pad that simulates the shaking that occurs during a rocket launch.

“We have always designed and manufactured and tested spacecraft here at Ball,” Taylor said. “Now we’ve increased that capability in terms of size and scope.”

The new capabilities will allow Ball Aerospace to do more for less, Taylor said, which will help the company land additional contracts.

Ball Aerospace began planning the expansion campaign in 2003. The company has been expanding and improving the Fisher facility since 2005, with work on the latest addition starting in 2011.

Ball Aerospace reported sales of $784 million in 2011, with much of that coming from the federal government for civilian and defense projects. The fate of future federal contracts currently is unknown, as Congress debates potential spending cuts known as the “sequestration.”

Three Colorado congressmen – Democrats Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter and Republican Cory Gardner – spoke at the event. Each mentioned sequestration, and Polis said failing to work out a deal could lead to cuts that would cause companies such as Ball to lay off 10 percent to 25 percent of their workforces.

Taylor said he did not know whether that would happen, mostly because no one really knows what programs the federal government would cut.

“If someone were to tell us what sequestration looks like when it’s done, then I could answer the question. We’re making the bet, which we started 10 years ago, that we’re going to win programs, be very competitive and continue to add to our revenue base, and so far we’ve done that,” Taylor said. “We think we can continue that, even in a reduced funding space.”

Potential growth opportunities are in building satellites for private companies and foreign countries. New changes in export regulations could lead to growth of the latter market, Taylor said.

The first satellites to be assembled and tested in the new facility are the WorldView-3 remote sensing satellite, which Ball is building for Longmont-based DigitalGlobe Inc. (NYSE: DGI), and the Joint Polar Satellite System, which is a NASA project. They will be joined soon by defense satellites Taylor said he could not discuss.

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