Tag Archive for: MAXAR

Maxar Technologies is an operator of high-resolution Earth imaging satellites and lately has received regulatory approval to use its satellites to monitor the space environment and sell that data commercially.

Having a license to offer non-Earth imagery enables commercial remote sensing satellites to observe objects such as other satellites and orbital debris. 

Maxar is looking to use this capability to fill growing commercial and government demand for debris monitoring and space domain awareness data, the company’s CEO Daniel Jablonsky has told SpaceNews.

Jablonsky said the company’s in-space monitoring services could support national security priorities that range from tracking objects, analyzing their characteristics and discriminating benign from aggressive activities in orbit.

Maxar’s four imaging satellites currently in orbit have always had the capability to watch the space environment but the new remote-sensing license modification approved recently by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “allows us to do that commercially,” said Jablonsky.

He said securing this licensing approval has been a long-time goal of Maxar given the congestion in orbit and the hazards posed by debris objects. Jablonsky credited the Biden administration’s National Space Council for “having done a nice job of making sure that commercial capabilities that can be brought to bear can be commercialized. And I think this is a good example of that.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said the council will work to revamp regulations for the entire space industry to boost U.S. competitiveness. 

For Maxar and other industry operators, having accurate data on potential threats in orbit has huge financial implications. Jablonsky noted that the WorldView-2  imaging satellite — then operated by DigitalGlobe — in 2016 was hit by a non-tracked piece of debris.  Since acquiring DigitalGlobe in 2017, Maxar has increased advocacy for better space situational awareness and traffic management.

After the debris incident, the company used one of its other satellites to image WorldView-2 and determine that the damage was minimal. But in order to do that, under the licensing agreement at the time, it had to get permission from NOAA to take an image of its own satellite.

The licensing for non-Earth imagery also applies to Maxar’s six WorldView Legion satellites that the company plans to start launching later this year.

L3Harris has selected Maxar Technologies to supply 14 satellite buses and provide support services as a subcontractor to them.

Maxar Technologies announced earlier this month that it was selected by L3Harris to manufacture 14 missile-detection satellites for the U.S. Space Development Agency.

DoD’s space agency last month announced it awarded L3Harris Technologies and Northrop Grumman contracts to each build 14 missile-tracking satellites for a low Earth orbit constellation known as the Tracking Layer Tranche 1.  L3Harris won a $700 million contract.

The 28 infrared-sensing satellites will be part of a global network of eyes in the sky the Pentagon will use to detect and track the latest generation of ballistic and hypersonic missiles being developed by countries like Russia and China. 

“This is a big win,” Maxar CEO Daniel Jablonsky said during a second-quarter earnings call. He called the agreement with L3Harris a validation of Maxar’s strategy to pursue national security satellite contracts to diversify its mostly commercial-only business.

Maxar will supply satellite buses and provide support services as a subcontractor to L3Harris. The company did not disclose the value of the contract. Jablonsky said it’s a fixed-price deal for Maxar’s new “workhorse PLEO” bus, designed for proliferated low Earth orbit constellations and based on an earlier design the company bid for the Telesat constellation.

The contract with L3Harris also covers the integration of mission payloads, including optical terminals for mesh networking, Ka-band communications and infrared sensors. Maxar will manufacture the buses at its factories in Palo Alto and San Jose, California, for delivery in 2024. Launches are scheduled to begin in April 2025.

“This program demonstrates that Maxar is primed to handle a diverse set of missions,” said Chris Johnson, Maxar senior vice president and general manager of space. 

Rob Mitrevski, vice president and general manager of spectral solutions at L3Harris, said the company considered the Maxar platform a good fit for SDA’s Tracking Layer. “Developing and manufacturing commoditized, commercially available spacecraft for the national defense space architecture is key for the Space Development Agency.”

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said the 10-year deals with three companies are the agency’s largest ever commercial contracting effort

The NRO called these awards the agency’s “largest-ever commercial imagery contracting effort.”

Maxar’s deal is worth more than $3.2 billion over the decade. BlackSky’s contract has options worth up to $1 billion. Planet Labs has not yet disclosed the value of its contract.

“These contracts mark a historic expansion of the NRO’s acquisition of commercial imagery to meet increasing customer demands with greater capacity,” said the agency.

The contracts have a five-year base period of performance with options to extend up to 10 years. “NRO policy prohibits public statements of contract values. However, we can say the requirements have grown since EnhancedView and the contract scope and value have also grown,” a spokesperson said.

EnhancedView was a single-vendor agreement signed with Maxar in 2010 worth about $300 million a year for access to the company’s high-resolution imagery satellites and image archive. 

The EnhancedView arrangement is now being replaced with the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) contract shared by three vendors.

Maxar said its EOCL contract is worth up to $3.24 billion over the decade, with a firm five-year base commitment worth $1.5 billion and options estimated at $1.74 billion.

Under EOCL, “Maxar will continue to provide high-resolution commercial satellite imagery services to the NRO for use across the U.S. defense and intelligence community,” the company said.

The new contract gives the NRO access to the company’s current WorldView and GeoEye four-satellite constellation and to six new Legion satellites that have not yet been launched.

Maxar said the EOCL contract is “flexible and allows for growth to consider additional capacity from the Legion satellites when they are operational.” There is a $40 million option in year five of Maxar’s EOCL contract, bringing the potential value for year five to $340 million. 

BlackSky said the starting value of its EOCL agreement is $85.5 million and the total contract options are worth $1 billion over the 10-year period. 

NRO market research

The three companies selected for the EOCL procurement were expected to win. The NRO for several years had signaled its intent to expand the pool of imagery providers and in November issued the final EOCL request for bids after extensive market research, including study contracts awarded in 2019 to BlackSky, Maxar and Planet. The study contracts gave the NRO access to the companies’ business plans, finances and projected capacity of their satellite constellations.

“Commercial imagery is a valuable tool for information sharing and decision making,” said Pete Muend, director of NRO’s commercial systems program office. “EOCL allows us to meet a larger number of customer requirements more quickly than ever before and dedicate national systems to the most challenging and sensitive missions.”

Under the EOCL, the NRO will purchase a variety of imagery products, including foundation data and traditional imagery, as well as shortwave infrared, nighttime, and non-Earth imaging, and direct downlink to U.S. military remote ground terminals. Under this contract the NRO also can purchase “point collection” services where the government can task a commercial satellite to collect images over a particular spot. Non-Earth imaging of objects in space is a new capability that the NRO is buying that takes advantage of commercial satellites’ space situational awareness sensors. 

“Maxar has been a trusted U.S. government partner for more than two decades, and we’re proud to continue to serve that mission under EOCL,” said Maxar’s president and CEO Dan Jablonsky. 

 Planet Labs said its contract will give the NRO access to Planet’s high and medium resolution satellite imagery. Once in orbit and operational, users will also have access to Planet’s next generation, rapid revisit Pelican fleet. The contract also makes available Planet’s archive of over 2,000 images of every point on Earth dating back to 2009.

“We have long held the conviction that unclassified commercial satellite imagery not only equips the government with differentiated and innovative intelligence capabilities, but also increases transparency and accountability that advances global security, as well as trust between government and citizens,” said Planet’s co-founder and chief strategy officer Robbie Schingler.

Planet, which became a publicly traded company in December after closing a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, operates more than 200 imaging satellites. BlackSky also went public in September via a SPAC merger.

Brian O’Toole, CEO of BlackSky, told SpaceNews that the NRO’s contract is a strong endorsement of the company’s “dynamic monitoring, high frequency imagery services. It goes beyond what was done in the past with just foundational imagery.” The company operates 14 imaging satellites.

O’Toole said $72 million of the initial $85.5 million award is for services to be provided in the first two years of the contract. “So it’s a substantial expansion from where we were and a great start for a long term program that has a pretty big upside of up to a billion dollars.”