Aerospacelab's satellite manufacturing line in Wallonia, Belgium. Credit: Aerospacelab

WASHINGTON — Aerospacelab, a Belgian startup that manufactures and operates small satellites, announced a new partnership with U.S. startup Xona Space Systems.

Under the agreement with Xona Space announced March 19, Aerospacelab secured a contract to build the U.S. startup’s first positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellite. 

Xona Space is developing a commercial PNT service through a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites. The company plans to offer the service as a backup to PNT provided by the Global Positioning System.

Xona’s satellite will be manufactured at Aerospacelab’s planned future facility in the United States. The specific location and timeline for the opening will be announced soon, said Tina Ghataore, chief strategy and revenue officer of Aerospacelab.

Ghataore said the contract with Xona Space does not have options to build more satellites beyond the initial agreement, “yet we have already discussed this opportunity as a potential next milestone,” she said.

Six Aerospacelab spacecraft launched

Founded in 2018, Aerospacelab has already launched satellites to orbit as part of its remote-sensing business. Among the company’s U.S. customers is Albedo, a remote-sensing startup planning to establish an optical and thermal imaging constellation in very-low Earth orbit.

Ghataore said the satellite being built for Xona Space is a smallsat that uses a bus called VSP, or Versatile Satellite Platform. She said the VSP has proven flight heritage with six spacecraft currently in orbit.

Under the agreement, Aerospacelab also will assist Xona Space in obtaining the necessary satellite operator’s license and support launch operations for two years. 

“We are excited to be a part of Xona’s journey as we will build this navigation satellite for them, but will also be assembling, integrating and testing at our new U.S. facilities,” Ghataore said. 

Tyler Reid, co-founder and chief technology officer of Xona Space, said the company decided to work with Aerospacelab because of its “proven satellite platforms, competitive pricing and commitment to an aggressive schedule.”

Based in California, Xona Space designed its PNT service for self-driving cars and drones but the company sees growing opportunities in the defense market as the U.S. military seeks alternatives to GPS. 

The venture arm of Lockheed Martin, the company that manufactures GPS satellites for the Defense Department, is an investor in Xona Space. The PNT startup said it plans to start building a constellation over the next few years of between 250 and 300 small satellites in low Earth orbit. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...