Artist's concept of Iridium Next satellite. Credit: Iridium

LOGAN, Utah — Harris Corp. is pivoting.

The company that played a leading role in promoting hosted payloads and sold excess space on Iridium Communications satellites, is turning its attention to small satellites “because that’s where the market is,” said Sid Stewart, manager of Harris Space and Intelligence Systems’ Satellite Solutions Group.

Harris is pairing commercially available small satellite buses with its own sensors to provide customers with complete missions. “We basically become a prime who does the satellite, the ground system and the data exploitation and dissemination,” Stewart told SpaceNews at the Small Satellite Conference here. “We like to call it soup to nuts.”

Traditionally, Harris offered customers a variety of space sensors including large-aperture unfurlable mesh reflectors for communications satellites. With its 2015 acquisition of Exelis Inc., Harris expanded its role in the sensor market.

Now, Harris is seeking to draw on some of that expertise to trim the cost of sensors destined for small satellites.

“We found the knee in the curve for what cost would be acceptable in the [small satellite] marketplace,” said Tim Lynch, director of Harris Space and Intelligence Systems mission solutions business area. “It is three- to four-year mission life and 85 percent mission success.”

Harris already has attracted internal and external small satellite customers, although Lynch declined to name the commercial customers.

Harris is developing small satellites to test electronics and other systems Harris plans to fly on larger spacecraft. Harris also is working with government and commercial customers to design satellites to fulfill their missions.

“We have a nice pipeline of a couple satellites over the next couple years,” Lynch said. “We also are evaluating some opportunities on larger-size constellations.”

Harris has played a prominent role in the hosted payload market since it won a contract in 2013 to market excess capacity on the 81 satellites built for the Iridium Next global communications constellation.

That was a golden opportunity that Lynch likens to real estate in Malibu, a wealthy beachside community in Los Angeles County. “Iridium Next was Malibu and that’s gone.”

In the wake of its Iridium Next victory, Harris tried to match hosted payloads with commercial and government satellites but it was an uphill battle because Harris’ customer was always “a rider, not the driver,” Stewart said. “He did not get to decide where the satellite points or how much power he would get. The prime mission takes priority and he just gets leftovers.”

Small satellites offer Harris a way to turn the same customers who turned to it for help with hosted payloads into primary payload customers.

“Now, you can launch a small satellite for a million bucks,” Stewart said. “It’s a better solution for most problems today.”

Harris is working with customers to identify gaps in their marketplace. Then Harris performs the mission analysis, determining, for example, which sensor would be appropriate, the optimum mission orbit and satellite bus. “Typically, the buses are less than 100 kilograms,” Lynch said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...