What began in a Louisville basement more than 50 years ago will soon be landing on the moon.
Representatives from Lockheed Martin Space visited Louisville-based S&S Tool and Machine Co. on Wednesday to honor the company for its work on NASA’s unmanned Artemis I spacecraft Orion.
S&S manufactured more than 450 components for Orion, which launched Nov. 16 and orbited the moon for 25 days, traveling 1.4 million miles.
The company also made parts for the Artemis II spacecraft, which has been assembled and will take a four-person crew around the moon and back to Earth over nine days next year. Artemis III will launch in 2025 with the goal of landing two humans on the moon with help from components made at S&S.
So far, S&S has made more than 4,000 titanium, aluminum and plastic parts for Artemis missions, which are expected to continue for decades as NASA establishes a long-term presence on the moon and eventually sends astronauts to Mars.
Matt Cox, Lockheed’s (NYSE: LMT) systems engineering director for Orion, said the North Bethesda, Maryland company chooses S&S to manufacture some of the spacecraft’s most detailed components.
“[Lockheed uses S&S because of] their unique precision capability. We send the parts here that require the tighter tolerances and highest performance,” Cox said. “Part of what this program has been able to do is make sure that there’s shops in every state within the United States that are part of the Orion program. S&S is a great fit for that ... very agile and they work well with us.”
Founded in 1967 in the basement of Charles and Caroll Siegel's home, S&S manufactures precision gages, fixtures and single pieces for the aerospace, defense, appliance and automotive industries. Today, the company has four facilities across Louisville and Russell Springs, Kentucky, employing about 70 people.
Chief Operating Officer Fred Siegel said S&S takes pride in making parts other machine shops won’t — or can’t. When meeting with a prospective customer, Siegel said he asks to make the most complex component the customer needs first to prove S&S can manufacture anything else they need as well. That strategy has only gotten him in trouble a couple times, he said.
Lockheed, which contracts with NASA and the U.S. Military, is one of S&S’s largest customers, Siegel said, having made parts for the global security and aerospace giant since the early 1980s, including the Space Shuttle program.
The company generated $66 billion in revenue last year, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, and employs more than 110,000 people around the world. Lockheed’s current NASA contract runs through Artemis VII.
S&S has also made components for Black Hawk Helicopters and various military weapons, but the company often doesn’t know what they’re actually making. S&S Plant Manager Rick Hornek said Lockheed sends the company plans for a part with a generic title, but typically can’t disclose what it’s used for due to national security concerns.
On Wednesday, Cox told S&S employees that most the parts they made for Orion were used for the craft’s three hatches, which he called the most important parts of the ship because they secure astronauts inside, safe from harsh elements. S&S also manufactured brackets that held Orion’s two outer cameras and captured photos of the moon, Earth and stars.
Siegel said he feels pride when he sees parts made inside his parent’s machine shop being used in outer space — a feeling that peaked when he was invited to Orion’s launch in Florida last year.
“We were in a group that was invited for the unveiling … and they were all key people in building the structure,” Siegel said. “[A Lockheed official] noticed my shirt and he came up and said, ‘Oh, S&S Tool. Wow, I want to talk to you.’ I was standing in a group of people that would have a shirt that read 3M, Eaton Hydraulics, Jet Propulsion Laboratories — the biggest companies in the world.
"I look down at my shirt and I see S&S Tool. Who in the heck knows who that is?”
Louisville's Largest Manufacturing Firms
Local FTEs: 2023
|Rank||Prior Rank||Name / Prior rank|
|1||1||Ford Motor Co.|
|2||2||GE Appliances, a Haier company|
View this list