Maxar Technologies is finally preparing to launch its next-generation imaging satellites, WorldView Legion, this summer after experiencing years of delays. The first two high-resolution imaging satellites are ready to be launched into orbit using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Maxar plans to launch six WorldView Legions on three separate Falcon 9 rockets into sun-synchronous and mid-inclination orbits. The delays were caused by various setbacks, including hardware supplier issues, production shutdowns during the pandemic, a shortage of cargo aircraft, and the new technology within the Legion satellites. The company’s president and CEO, Daniel Jablonsky, stated that they have completed all the necessary preflight checks, finalized the flight software, and completed last-minute testing before the satellites are launched.

In the meantime, Maxar is in the process of finalizing a deal to be acquired by Advent International, a private equity firm. The acquisition was approved by Maxar’s shareholders on April 19 for $6.4 billion. The success of the Earth intelligence division of Maxar relies on the six-satellite Legion constellation, as it currently only has three legacy WorldView and one GeoEye optical imaging satellite.

Due to the increase in demand for imagery caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Maxar’s investors have approved the production of two additional WorldView Legion satellites. These satellites will be based on the same technology as the previous six but with some upgrades. Maxar will continue to upgrade the technology during the engineering cycle when opportunities for improvement are identified.

According to Jablonsky, Maxar is already ordering long-lead-time parts, particularly the optics packages, for the future Legion satellites. He also stated that there is a high demand for these satellites, and during the recent Space Symposium, the first question from every customer was about their availability.

Maxar is the primary supplier of commercial electro-optical imagery for the US government. In 2020, the company won a $3.2 billion contract from the National Reconnaissance Office to provide mapping services and imagery for the next ten years.

According to Jablonsky, both governments and commercial customers are increasingly relying on data from space to make decisions. The conflict in Ukraine has created a demand not only for optical imagery but also for other sensing technologies, such as synthetic aperture radar and radio-frequency mapping.

Maxar has been expanding into both the SAR and RF markets in recent months, including through partnerships with Umbra and Aurora Insight. The company’s acquisition strategy has been a key part of its business strategy, and it has added 3D imaging and machine-learning technologies to its portfolio with the acquisitions of Vricon and Wovenware. Jablonsky declined to comment on any upcoming acquisitions but said the company is always looking for opportunities to invest in new technologies and companies.

Satellogic is a South American company known for high-resolution multispectral imagery. They are selling Earth-observation satellites for $10 million or less.

Satellogic has introduced a new Space Systems product that targets customers interested in developing their space capabilities rather than just purchasing images.

According to Satellogic’s chief commercial officer, Matt Tirman, this type of satellite is sought after by space agencies worldwide for various purposes, such as civil, research, and defensive and intelligence. He also mentioned that there is a high demand for this product.

Satellogic is providing its customers with the option to receive delivery of their satellite orders within three months.

In addition, the company is offering to transfer intellectual property to its clients. According to Matt Tirman, Satellogic’s chief commercial officer, some customers have requested the company’s advice on how to set up an assembly, integration, and testing facility.

Satellogic is not subjected to U.S. export controls such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and customers do not need a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration license for Earth imagery because the company is not based in the United States.

This exemption from ITAR and NOAA licensing requirements is a significant advantage for both Satellogic and the market.

Satellogic was established in 2010 and currently operates a constellation of 30 Earth-observation satellites.

By the end of this year, the company plans to increase its satellite count to over 40 to meet the demand for Earth imagery, analytics, and satellite tasking services from its customers, according to Matt Tirman, Satellogic’s chief commercial officer.

The company’s ability to build high-quality smallsats at scale for a lower cost compared to traditional Earth-observation satellites is a significant aspect of its business, Tirman added.

Over the past two years, the demand for satellites has increased, particularly from emerging space programs in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, which led to the creation of Satellogic’s Space Systems arm in January.


NanoAvionics received an order for three additional satellites from OQ Technology of Luxembourg, which raised $13 million in September to build out a small constellation of 5G narrowband nanosatellites for Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.

NanoAvionics has constructed three satellites for OQ Technology, of which two have already been launched into orbit. The launch of the third satellite, known as MACSAT, has been postponed due to the failure of an Arianespace-operated Vega C rocket in December 2022. However, following a recent announcement from the European Space Agency regarding the investigation outcome and way forward, OQ Technology’s CEO expressed confidence that MACSAT will fly this year.

Additionally, NanoAvionics has been awarded a contract to build three 6U cubesats named Tiger-4, Tiger-7, and Tiger-8, which will carry 5G NB-IoT payloads provided by OQ Technology. The new satellites will be built at a new facility in Vilnius, Lithuania, and will have onboard propulsion for deployment, formation flying, and end-of-life disposal. OQ Technology’s CEO sees the new satellites as a means of expanding their global coverage and entering new markets. NanoAvionics’ CEO attributes the repeat business to the company’s standardization, automation, and experience with communications missions.

Three in orbit

According to a news release from OQ Technology on March 13, the company has launched three Tiger nanosatellites since 2018, and plans to have 10 satellites in orbit by late 2023 or early 2024.

The remaining satellite launches are scheduled to take place this year, with the final ones potentially launching in early 2024, depending on launch conditions.

OQ Technology’s current constellation includes Tiger-1, a 6U cubesat built by Denmark’s GomSpace, which was launched in February 2018 on a Chinese Long March 2D rocket, as well as Tiger-2 and Tiger-3, both 6U cubesats built by NanoAvionics and launched in June 2021 and April 2022, respectively, on SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare missions.

Seven in the pipeline

In addition to the recently ordered Tiger-4, Tiger-7, and Tiger-8 satellites from NanoAvionics and the previously built MACSAT awaiting the resumption of Vega launches, OQ Technology has ordered two 6U cubesats, Tiger-5 and Tiger-6, from Denmark-based Space Inventor.

The company is also collaborating with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre of the United Arab Emirates on the development of a 12U modular satellite platform named PHI-Demo (short for Payload Hosting Initiative demonstration), which will carry OQ Technology’s communications payload.

This payload will store and forward data collected from IoT devices, while SteamJet Space Systems, based in Birmingham, England, will supply the satellite’s water-based propulsion system.

“The PHI mission represents a major enabler for us in expanding our global satellite 5G coverage and also business in the [Middle East and North Africa] region,” Qaise said in a January 2022 announcement.

Manufacturers who previously focused on producing big geostationary satellites have successfully broadened their product lines to attract new customers.

At the Satellite 2023 conference, Cyrus Dhalla, the senior vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman Tactical Space Systems Division, stated that the satellite industry has transformed entirely instead of being on the brink of change. The era of ordering 20 geostationary communication satellites yearly has gone. Claude Rousseau, the moderator of the panel and NSR research director, said that nowadays, there are around 10 to 14 annual orders.

Thus, satellite manufacturers have shifted to offer small and medium-size satellites to both commercial and government clients. Furthermore, many nations now demand their independent space capability, and as a result, satellite companies have extended their services to government clients. Jonathan Caldwell, the Lockheed Martin military space vice president and general manager, made this observation.

Radically Reduced Price

According to Jonathan Caldwell, Lockheed Martin now produces more small satellites than large ones. He also mentioned that the commonality factor is crucial in small satellite manufacturers.

Caldwell also pointed out that Terran Orbital, a Florida-based company that won a $2.4 billion contract to provide satellites for Rivada Space Networks, is among the firms that Lockheed Martin is supporting. Caldwell expressed confidence in Terran Orbital’s capacity to manufacture 300 Rivada satellites quickly and efficiently, saying that they would deliver on the contract.

Caldwell also stated that Terran Orbital’s ability to expand its small satellite manufacturers capabilities would enable Lockheed Martin to provide customers with satellites at a “radically reduced price point.”

Risky Business

Jean-Marc Nasr, the executive vice president of space systems at Airbus Defence and Space, mentioned that small satellites are proving to be profitable for Airbus because of standardization, even though larger satellites are more expensive.

Airbus is selling its Arrow 450, which is produced by Airbus OneWeb Satellites, to various customers, including Northrop Grumman. Nasr forecasts potential sales of 500 to 1,000 units in the next five years. Building large satellites for specific customer requirements is more hazardous than mass-producing small satellites, Nasr said.

He advises companies to master their supply chain and continuously scrutinize their make-or-buy decisions. If other firms can produce parts or components more efficiently, it’s best to enter into long-term agreements with them to keep costs in line, according to Nasr.

GEO Remains Important

Thales Alenia Space supplies small satellites through its partnership with BlackSky, with a market driven by both telecommunications and Earth observation, according to Hervé Derrey, the CEO of Thales Alenia Space.

Despite the growth in small satellite demand, Derrey emphasized the continuing importance of large geostationary satellites. He also mentioned that specific telecommunication missions would be challenging and expensive to accomplish with satellites in low or medium-Earth orbit.

More Smallsat Orders

U.S. government customers have clearly expressed their desire to rely less on large satellites.

“They’re going to continue buying some capabilities in GEO,” Dhalla said. “We are seeing orders for much smaller satellites.”

Even satellites once considered mid-size, like Northrop Grumman’s GEOStar platform, looked big to a recent factory visitor.

“Time has really changed hasn’t it, when you look at something that was considered small five to 10 years ago” and someone comments on how big it is, Dhalla said.

Going Faster

In the face of myriad market opportunities, Maxar Technologies will “leverage the commercial go-fast mentality” to meet customer demands for speedy satellite manufacturing, said Chris Johnson, Maxar Space senior vice president and general manager.  

In terms of software-defined satellites, Maxar is taking a different approach from some of its competitors.

“There’s another place that we can go to add value to a certain portion of the market, just like we had value proposition in the GEO market before,” Johnson said. “We are going to leverage a different price point.”