Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 28, 2014

Lockheed Martin opens new advanced-materials center

New laboratory focuses on nanotechnology, high-tech products for space and earth environments

by Sue Dremann

Officials at space-technology company Lockheed Martin unveiled a new research facility at Stanford Research Park on Tuesday, March 25, reinforcing its staying power in Palo Alto after more than 50 years.

The 82,000-square-foot facility will house 130 engineers, scientists and staff who do advanced research in the development of emerging technologies, such as 3-D printing, thermal sciences, nanotechnology and high-temperature materials.

The Materials & Thermal Sciences Center, which is part of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center, quietly opened its new laboratory at 3251 Hanover St., Building 245, in December. The "green" facility uses energy-efficiency technologies and environmental practices that will save the company $1 million in annual maintenance costs and will cut energy costs by more than 60 percent.

The center replaces an old structure and consolidates 30 laboratories out of two 50-year-old facilities. The laboratories at the building's core are surrounded by a perimeter of open work spaces. The modular lab design allows staff to easily reconfigure the facility's work spaces as needed, spokesman Mark Lewis said during a building tour.

In one of the labs, a large synthetic rocket nose cone stood upright on the floor. Inside, there was a place for a satellite. The black cone was made from a new type of lightweight polymer developed at the lab. The new material can withstand heat and can be molded in one piece instead of several assembled components.

"We can make 40 in two eight-hour work shifts," Slade Gardner, a Lockheed Martin fellow, said.

He pointed to a titanium sphere — a propellant tank that will help boost satellites to their positions in space. The tank was created through "additive manufacturing" — 3-D printer technology that allows designers to create a model in 3-D. A 3-D printer builds the object line by line and layer by layer using heated spools of polymer material or special metal.

Scientists use a six-arm robot to build the sphere in free space. The robot lays titanium wire in layers that are heated together. The result is a metal sphere that can easily be machined to 22 mils thick — the equivalent thickness of 10 pieces of paper, he said.

The cost is far less than if carving an object out of a solid block of metal, where leftover material would be wasted, he said.

The lab has created its own recipes, which make the materials lighter and stronger, and far less costly. Just to get into earth orbit costs $10,000 per pound. Shaving 40 pounds off a spacecraft can save $400,000. If sending it to Mars, the savings is probably 10 times as much, staff said.

The center is creating technologies that are useful for earth-bound pursuits. A new form of carbon that is one atom thick and has atom-size holes is being turned into a new, inexpensive filtration system that could be used to purify water, for example, said Ken Washington, Advanced Technology Center vice president.

The new facility will allow the center to continue and expand its collaboration with Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley scientists, he said. Palo Alto, because of its rarefied academic environment and attractive amenities and climate, continues to be a place that attracts the best scientists and researchers, he said.

The City Palo Alto's carbon-neutral utilities goals are also attractive to companies such as Lockheed Martin, Mayor Nancy Shepherd said.

"Carbon neutral is on everybody's agenda. It is a real attraction to companies," she said.

Marshall Case, vice president of infrastructure services, called the new building part of "NextGen Lockheed Martin." The goal is to reduce its Palo Alto carbon dioxide output and its waste by 35 percent each and to reduce its water use by 25 percent, he said. The new building uses low-flow irrigation and buffer areas to reduce water output and retain runoff, for example, he said.

Palo Alto City Vice-Mayor Liz Kniss said the new laboratories are an example of older companies taking up the model of new tech companies. Shepherd thinks this next generation of Lockheed Martin is one example of a growing "research economy" that will help enrich Palo Alto for decades to come.

"We used to call it the Stanford Industrial Park, and it has transformed into the Research Park," she noted.

Watch more online

A timelapse video of the building's construction has been posted at https://tinyurl.com/q7dpekj

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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