Broad supplier base lending material support to smallsat revolutionaries


WASHINGTON — When Hawkeye 360 solicited proposals in 2016 to build its radio-frequency monitoring satellites, the firm found 25 companies capable of meeting its requirements.

“That’s a great commentary on the industry,” said Russ Matijevich, Hawkeye 360 vice president. “Small businesses can grab that expertise at the human level and at the hardware level.”

That broad supplier base contrasts starkly with the state of the small satellite industry when companies like Iridium, Teledesic and Globalstar were planning large satellite communications constellations more than 20 years ago.

Hawkeye 360 is not interested in building its own spacecraft. It selected Deep Space Industries to supply them so the company could focus on “the algorithms I need to make the products that are valuable to my customers,” Matijevich said during a Satellite 2017 panel on the so-called second small satellite revolution.

Peter Wegner, chief technology officer go Spaceflight Industries/BlackSky Global. Credit: Kate Patterson for SpaceNews
Peter Wegner, chief technology officer for Spaceflight Industries/BlackSky Global. Credit: Kate Patterson for SpaceNews

Another important change in the small satellite industry is its manpower requirements. Twenty years ago, mechanical engineers relied heavily on draftsmen.

Now, they can use software to “iterate early and often,” said Grant Bonin, Deep Space Industries chief engineer.

Private capital also is fueling the second small satellite revolution, said Peter Wegner, Spaceflight chief technology officer. “The other big difference today is the money that is flowing through,” he said.

Instead of U.S. government agencies funding most small satellite development, commercial industry is playing an important role.

“Today we have a commercially driven industry,” Wegner said. “Every week there’s a new company developing a suite of new satellite components.”