GeoEye: Lockheed Selection Was Strictly About Business

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WAShINGTON — Earth observation imagery and services provider GeoEye selected Lockheed Martin rather than incumbent General Dynamics to build the GeoEye-2 satellite based on Lockheed’s financial strength and technical prowess — and its strong ties to the U.S. Defense Department — and it had nothing to do with the impending sale of General Dynamics’ satellite unit to Orbital Sciences Corp., GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O’Connell said March 15.

General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Gilbert, Ariz., built the GeoEye-1 satellite now in orbit. The company’s satellite business is being sold to Dulles, Va.-based Orbital in a transaction announced just before GeoEye disclosed that Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., would be the GeoEye-2 prime contractor.

GeoEye, formerly called Orbimage, was founded by Orbital Sciences. Industry officials had said the two companies have had difficult relations that could have weighed on the GeoEye decision to reject a General Dynamics offer to build GeoEye-2.

O’Connell acknowledged that the timing of the two announcements — Orbital’s decision to purchase the General Dynamics satellite unit, and GeoEye’s Lockheed selection — “was unfortunate.”

“People are reading into it things they shouldn’t read into it,” O’Connell said. “Our choice was based on technical quality and Lockheed’s experience as the builder of our Ikonos satellite, which has performed magnificently. One example is the control momentum gyros that Lockheed will be providing for GeoEye-2. Spectrum Astro [the former name of General Dynamics’ satellite unit] had not done that.”

Control momentum gyros are used to control a satellite’s position in orbit, a key element in high-resolution satellites’ ability to remain stable while taking pictures.

GeoEye’s Lockheed-built Ikonos satellite has remained fully functional in orbit far longer than its predicted service life and was a key revenue-generator for the company as it waited for the GeoEye-1 launch in late 2008.