WASHINGTON — SSC Corp.’s ECAPS division will provide propulsion systems for 12 satellites to be built for imagery services startup Skybox Imaging, the companies announced March 11.
The contract is the largest ever for ECAPS’s environmentally friendly High Performance Green Propulsion system for small satellites, the companies said in a joint press release. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Skybox recently signed a contract with manufacturer(SSL) for 13 small imaging satellites, the first of which is being built at Skybox’s Mountain View, Calif., facilities in a collaborative effort between the two companies. ECAPS, a subsidiary of Sweden-based SSC, was already under contract to supply the propulsion system for that satellite, dubbed SkySat-3, and now has an order for the remaining 12.
Skybox ultimately plans a 24-satellite constellation occupying four different polar-orbit planes that will provide high-resolution imagery and full-motion video for commercial sale. The company’s first satellite, built in house and called SkySat-1, was launched in November on a Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket and is providing imagery and full-motion video. SkySat-2, also built in house, is scheduled for launch in June on a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket.
Skybox President and Chief Executive Tom Ingersoll said the company has raised $110 million in financing to date, enough to cover construction and launch of the first two satellites as well as the design work on SkySat-3.
Speaking March 11 at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon held in conjunction with the Satellite 2014 conference here, Ingersoll said the company needs to raise “[a] couple hundred million” dollars more to finish out the constellation and associated ground infrastructure. It was unclear whether he was referring to the satellites now under contract to Palo Alto, Calif.-based SSL or the full 24-satellite constellation.
Skybox’s primary financial backers are private equity firms Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, Ingersoll said. Industry sources said Skybox plans to raise a combination of debt and equity financing.
The contract with SSL, a subsidiary of MDA Corp. of Canada, raises the possibility that Skybox could receive backing from Export Development Canada, the country’s export credit agency, one industry source said. Export credit agency financing has become a major factor in the space industry and often helps determine who wins satellite manufacturing and launch contracts.
The first six of the SSL-built satellites, including SkySat-3, are slated to launch in 2015 on a Minotaur-C rocket provided by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
Ingersoll said one of Skybox’s primary strengths will be the timeliness of its imagery. With 24 satellites in sun-synchronous orbit, the company will be able to offer satellite revisit rates of five to 10 times per day, a capability that is critical to applications such as change detection, he said.
Operating in a 500-kilometer orbit, the SSL-built satellites will be able to take images with submeter resolution — in other words, sharp enough to detect objects less than 1 meter across. SkySat-1 operates at 600 kilometers, as will SkySat-2, a function of the fact that both were manifested as secondary payloads, Ingersoll said.