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.