When it comes to private space companies, Lockheed Martin isn’t exactly a name that comes to mind. The company has made its name primarily in the military and aerospace industry, along with names like Boeing. However, Lockheed has been working on a space agenda for a while now, and it seems to be seeing some headway.
While many private space companies have focused on spaceflight and the mission to carry people beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, Lockheed Martin has been on a different course. The company appears to be working on building satellite technology now.
Defense and Satellites
Last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) increased Lockheed Martin’s contract for the development of satellite integration by a further $27.3 million, according to reports. According to the announcement, DAPRA’s Blackjack project will build a network of small satellites in the low Earth Orbit to improve military operations like navigation, missile warning, and communications.
DARPA had selected Lockheed Martin to be Blackjack’s satellite integrator a year ago. The company already got a contract worth $13.1 million for the project, although this new contract means that the partnership is set to continue into the project’s second phase.
The project’s total value is now $40.1 million, although there is no indication of whether the two organizations will continue working together.
To be fair, Lockheed isn’t the only company that DAPRA is partnering with on Blackjack. The agency already ordered ten buses from Blue Canyon Technologies. It will also get infrared sensors for missile warning from Raytheon Technologies, and it awarded a $60.4 million contract to SEAKR Engineering to develop a data processing system for autonomous satellite operation.
Lockheed’s job is to assemble and integrate all components - the data processor, buses, and other payloads. The new contract change also includes integrating different Blackjack components into a launch vehicle for the on-orbit testing phase.
Experts estimate that Blackjack will have up to 20 satellites in total. The same technology developed in the project will support the Space Development Agency at the Pentagon. The agency is also working on building communications and missile-warning systems to operate in low Earth orbit.
Speaking to news sources, Julie Pecson, Lockheed Martin’s Program Director for Blackjack, confirmed that they were looking to launch the first four satellites in June 2022.
“Lockheed Martin looks forward to the continued partnership with DARPA and the Blackjack performers to develop this transformational program. This effort demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s approach to rapid satellite integration and validates DARPA’s ambitious program goals for Blackjack.”
Setback on NASA Contract
The announcement of this contract will definitely be a boost for Lockheed Martin - a company that has struggled to find its footing when it comes to space-related activity. The firm doesn’t have the capital and flexibility of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, so it is almost impossible for it to build rockets or try commercial spaceflight. However, it has leveraged partnerships to try to make headway.
For instance, Lockheed partnered with Blue Origin on the latter’s mission to get the NASA lunar lander system contract. However, the two companies presented a much more expensive bid than SpaceX. Experts believe that the partnership put a strain on Blue Origin, with Lockheed’s need to make a profit, which drove their bid price up. Eventually, NASA stuck with SpaceX - the most practical and cost-effective option.
Blue Origin has protested the decision, filing a complaint with the Office of Government Accountability. While the regulator has opened an inquiry into the contract, there is little proof to believe that this will force NAASA to rescind the SpaceX contract.
What is Lockheed Up To?
Beyond the DAPRA contract, Lockheed has also made moves that suggest more activity in space. This month, the company signed a long-term agreement for multiple launches with ABL Space, a rocket builder. The deal will see ABL Space provide as many as 58 rockets to Lockheed Martin over the next decade.
Lockheed will purchase 26 rockets before 2025, with the option to purchase another 32 before 2030. Rick Ambrose, the Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space, said in a press release:
“Having this assured access to space will accelerate our ability to demonstrate the spacecraft and associated payload technologies we are developing to the meet the future mission needs for our customers.”
None of the parties has commented on the contract’s financial terms. However, based on ABL’s $12 million price tag for a single RS1 rocket, the deal could be worth upwards of $700 million assuming they get the highest number of launches.
Lockheed also didn’t specify the missions it planned to launch with the rocket. However, it announced earlier this year that it had chosen ABL to launch a mission in 2022 from Scotland.
Lockheed also signed a partnership with Omnispace - a satellite company - last month. Under the terms of the deal, Omnispace will launch satellites that will help develop 5G communication networks in the Earth’s orbit.
So, while Lockheed can’t get people into space, the company is definitely building a presence there nonetheless.