Lockheed Martin opens new advanced-materials center

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

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 is a place for a satellite. The black cone is 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 Council member 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 a time-lapse video of the new center's construction.


Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2014 at 6:47 pm

This is why companies choose to came here, Lockheed is a great company, glad to hear they are staying put in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Quick engineering note to editor about half way down, "machined to 22 millimeters thick" should be 22 mils thick, where mils are milli-inches or thousandths of an inch.

Like this comment
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm

You have to be careful when writing on technical items, Palo Alto Weekly -- there are a LOT of people in this area who know the subject backwards and forwards...

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Thought I'd try to correct it before somebody got facetious. The most technical people in the world have erred on units, often with unhappy results. This is a great article highlighting the new building's design, purpose, and sustainability.

Like this comment
Posted by Happy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:05 am

I'm thrilled to see that there is some basic research still going on in Palo Alto. With H-P essentially exiting high tech since spinning off the Agilent business, which was the original core of H-P, then Agilent shutting down most of its basic research and moving what little was left to Santa Clara, it's good to see that Lockheed is still working on innovative, disruptive technologies.

I used to be proud of the amazing innovations coming out of the basic science discoveries being made by Palo Alto-based engineering firms. Now they are all focused on next quarter's earnings and are innovating through acquisition or by funding university research. I hope Lockheed leads the way back to long-term research work.

Like this comment
Posted by Henry Johnstone
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Lockheed-Martin is a military contractor rather than a generic "space technology" company.

As they indicate in their own annual report, more than 60% of their annual sales comes from Department of Defense contracts.

(Full disclosure: I'm an LMT shareholder.)

Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Many thanks for the correction, musical.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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