US: Current demand for commercial remote sensing satellites is not sufficient to maintain stable workforce, according to Fred Doyle, Vice President of Ball Aerospace. Doyle was speaking in a panel discussion devoted to the health of the global aerospace industrial base at the International Commercial Remote Sensing Symposium (ICRSS). Further, he added that companies have to balance labour demands in order to avoid workforce gaps.
Doyle showed a graph illustrating the labour 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 programmes, but Doyle said the company recognises 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 programmes 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 programmes.
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 US 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.”