WASHINGTON — Geost, a supplier of optical sensor payloads for military satellites, announced Sept. 11 it won a contract to produce eight payloads for missile-tracking satellites that Northrop Grumman is building for the U.S. Space Development Agency.

The payloads — intended to detect threats in orbit — are for SDA’s Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellites projected to launch in 2025. Northrop Grumman in July 2022 won a $617 million contract to produce 14 Tracking Layer satellites. 

Geost, based in Tucson, Arizona, is a LightRidge Solutions company owned  by the private equity firm ATL Partners.

SDA, a U.S. Space Force organization, calls its layered network of satellites the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. It includes a Transport Layer of interconnected communications satellites that will transmit data collected by the Tracking Layer missile-detection and early-warning sensor satellites.

Joshua Hartman, LightRidge Solutions chief growth and strategy officer, said the payloads are designed to “protect and defend the host asset while also providing threat characterization and warning across the satellite architecture.  They support the survivability, and therefore resilience, of the assets and overall architecture during attacks.”

The payloads, named Starlite, are the size of a soda can. They are a smaller and lower-cost version of those the company produces for large geostationary satellites, Hartman said. 

Under the contract with Northrop Grumman, Geost also will provide a ground system to operate Starlite payloads. 

“Using a separate ground station is the most cost-effective means of deploying the capability,” Hartman said. 

Congressionally mandated

The company expects to get more orders for Starlite payloads after they are demonstrated on Tranche 1, he said. 

“The resiliency capability that Starlite provides was not initially planned to be included in the Space Development Agency Tranche 1 baseline,” Hartman said. “It is, however, included in the Tranche 2 baseline plans.”

The addition of eight Starlite payloads in Tranche 1, he said, “was directed by the Defense Appropriations Committees and embraced by the SDA as a pathfinder effort after the Tranche 1 awards were made. Unfortunately, insufficient budget was added to install Starlite on all the Northrop Grumman satellites.”

Hartman said Geost is expanding its manufacturing capacity. “We are building out several thousand square feet of production space in our Tucson facility for electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) payloads.”

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...