Lockheed Martin ramping up small satellite production

Illustration of Lockheed Martin's Pony Express 2 small satellites. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Illustration of Lockheed Martin’s Pony Express 2 small satellites. Credit: Lockheed Martin

By Sandra Erwin,
Published by Space News, 16 February 2024

The company has a backlog of 100 smallsats for defense and intelligence agencies

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is experiencing a growth spurt in an unexpected corner of its business: small satellites. While traditionally known for its expertise in GPS and giant geostationary (GEO) satellites, the company has quietly built a backlog of 100 smallsats on order from Department of Defense and intelligence customers.

“This is probably a different picture than many of you may have in our minds” about what the company does, Johnathon Caldwell, head of Lockheed Martin’s military space business, told a military conference Feb. 14.

Speaking at the Air & Space Forces Association’s Warfare Conference in Aurora, Colorado, Caldwell said a greater focus on small satellites began with the company’s pursuit of Space Development Agency contracts. SDA is building a proliferated mesh network of satellites in low Earth orbit for the Defense Department, and unlike traditional cost-plus defense programs, the agency demands fixed-price bids from satellite manufacturers.

Lockheed Martin last year opened a new smallsat assembly facility near Denver, Colorado, with capacity to manufacture 180 spacecraft per year. Most of Lockheed’s smallsats are made with buses from Terran Orbital.

Upcoming tech demo

Caldwell said the smallsat business has to operate with the mentality of a startup. Taking advantage of the new production line, the company is funding its own space missions to demonstrate technologies that it believes the government will want to buy. 

In 2022 it launched a satellite-servicing demonstration mission and most recently in December an antenna experiment that ended up in the wrong orbit.

The next experiment, called Pony Express 2, is scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s upcoming Transporter 10 smallsat rideshare. Two Terran Orbital Renegade-class cubesats will attempt to form a Ka-band mesh network in space.

“They will demonstrate a handful of interesting new technologies that we’ve been investing in through our venture fund,” said Caldwell.

These include open standards mesh networking and autonomous tasking of satellites. He said the company will allow military units to use the satellites in wargames and exercises.

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