Tag Archive for: Space

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.

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.”

The use of secure open architectures, flexible data frameworks, and DevSecOps has allowed space agencies to become more scalable and adaptable. Open architectures allow for open data to be processed, analyzed, and shared, while DevSecOps ensures ongoing security and flexibility. These elements can be integrated into any system, allowing for unprecedented capabilities and the ability to plug in the latest innovation.

Terrestrial stations offer the opportunity for the fastest modernization, as software, algorithms, and AI can be added to add new functionality or correct problems. Open systems are made possible through advanced cyber, cloud, and AI technologies, providing interoperability and the ability to rapidly test, implement, and update elements from any partner. Standard APIs and industry-standard formats can be used to ensure data remains free, even in older ground stations.

Open architectures offer advantages like:

  • The use of open data platforms and interoperable systems enables the Department of Defense (DOD) to integrate technology from both traditional partners and startups. This allows for the immediate implementation of innovative solutions from various sources.
  • By utilizing a coordinated DevSecOps approach, faster and more dependable innovation can be achieved through automated deployments, standardized processes, and automated security scans. For instance, Booz Allen developed a tool suite that enabled data scientists to securely create, train, and deploy machine learning models for a mission-critical national system.
  • Microservices architecture facilitates modular modernization by allowing for the integration of multiple advanced technologies like AI and ML into workflows. GPU technology can then be used to incorporate AI and ML into the system. Booz Allen demonstrated the effectiveness of deep reinforcement learning in enhancing collision avoidance and optimizing satellite scheduling.
  • To ensure advanced space cyber defense, cloud-native technologies are used to integrate security features from the beginning. These include standardized approaches to ensure data provenance and integrity, encryption to protect network connections and data, and zero-trust security that reduces human error and adds resilience against cyber attacks. Cybersecurity protection safeguards the intersection between IT and the satellite system, mitigating operational technology vulnerabilities.

Modularity to Address Multiple Challenges

Once a space organization transitions to an open-architecture framework, the door is open to any innovation partner with a good idea. The time to implement a new technology for a changing mission can be reduced from months or weeks to as little as hours or even minutes. Agile solutions can be rapidly at work for objectives like these:

  • The design of many U.S. satellites currently in orbit was based on the belief that space was a sanctuary safe from attacks. However, these satellites are now vulnerable to threats such as anti-satellite missiles, lasers, jamming devices, and cyber attacks. To address this, new software can be updated on-orbit, and smart analytics can alert operators to potential attacks. Attack assessment and self-healing architectures can also ensure that a space mission’s continuity is maintained even after an attack.
  • AI can be implemented at any point in the mission to enable intelligent and coordinated space-based information gathering, which is essential for command and control. This allows for faster generation and sharing of intelligence insights and integrated initiatives like Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
  • As the world becomes increasingly reliant on satellite services, overcrowding in space becomes a growing concern. By utilizing modern algorithms to process sensor data from partners worldwide (such as radar, visual, and infrared), more precise locations can be determined, and forecasts and automated courses of action can be optimized for split-second decisions. Open architectures can be leveraged to conquer today’s challenges and stay ahead of future threats and challenges.

During financial results, Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke stated that a search for companies to construct OneWeb’s second-generation constellation would most likely commence by the end of June. The RFP (request for proposals) is anticipated to allow for launches to begin in 2025 or 2026 for a low Earth orbit (LEO) network with an estimated cost of $4 billion.

Gen 2’s needs will be covered by launch options reserved by the companies, which include new rockets created by Arianespace, Blue Origin, and Relativity Space. According to Berneke, replenishment plans for OneWeb’s current generation of 648 proposed satellites would only extend the constellation’s lifespan to 2027 or 2028.

The next-generation constellation is expected to enable faster speeds and denser coverage with many more satellites, even though the specifications have not yet been finalized. OneWeb has thus far deployed 542 satellites, while SpaceX and India’s space agency intend to launch a batch of satellites in late February and early March, giving OneWeb global coverage once they become operational by January 2024.

The French geostationary satellite operator, Eutelsat, is reportedly making good progress in obtaining the final regulatory approvals needed from France and the United States to acquire OneWeb through a merger deal that was announced last year. Unlike Viasat’s plan to purchase British operator Inmarsat, the Eutelsat-OneWeb deal did not raise any concerns from Europe regarding a potential reduction in competition in the satellite services market.

According to CEO Rodolphe Belmer, there were no regulatory questions raised that were not typical, and there is no overlap between OneWeb’s and Eutelsat’s markets, as they operate in different orbits with no competing capacities. However, Belmer emphasized the need for regulators to fully understand the satellite market, especially given the newness of the constellation market. Assuming that Eutelsat’s shareholders approve the transaction, the company expects to complete the OneWeb deal in the second or third quarter of this year.

Despite a declining market for satellite TV, OneWeb has provided a bright spot in the financial results of Eutelsat. For the six months ending December 2022, Eutelsat’s total revenues decreased by 6.1% compared to the same period in 2021, when adjusted for currency changes on a like-for-like basis.

However, fixed broadband revenues and sales of mobile connectivity services increased by 17% and 33%, respectively. Meanwhile, government revenues decreased by 20% due to non-renewals from the U.S. Department of Defense, and broadcast activity sales fell by 6.7%.

Eutelsat is also experiencing difficulties due to sanctions on Russian and Iranian channels, which are expected to cause a slight deterioration in revenues for the six months ending June. To pivot towards connectivity services, Eutelsat has heavily invested in geostationary communication satellites and has purchased OneWeb. Two of the four satellites launched for Eutelsat in the second half of 2022, Konnect VHTS and Eutelsat 10B, focus on broadband markets.