WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is looking to team up with more commercial space companies as it aims to stay ahead of the curve in areas like intelligence, surveillance, communications, and small satellites, a senior executive said March 19.

“We’re looking for strategic partners,” said Robert Lightfoot, president of Lockheed Martin Space. “We’re interested in talking with anyone who has an advantage in those areas from a space perspective.”

Lightfoot spoke with SpaceNews at the Satellite 2024 conference. 

The $67 billion aerospace and defense giant wants to work with commercial companies with expertise in intelligence and surveillance payloads, as well as communications payloads for satellites, as it looks to meet growing government demand for resilient space-based capabilities.

Lightfoot highlighted partnerships Lockheed has already forged through venture investments in companies like launch provider ABL Space; positioning, navigation and timing startup Xona Space Systems, and small satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital.

Lockheed Martin on March 1 put forth a proposal to acquire Terran Orbital, though Lightfoot did not comment on the status of the deal. He did, however, emphasize Lockheed Martin’s major push to grow its small and medium satellite business.

The company uses Terran Orbital’s satellite buses to build small satellites for the U.S. Space Force as part of the Space Development Agency’s proliferated mesh network of satellites in low Earth orbit.

Space tech demonstrations

Lockheed Martin’s internal R&D division is funding small satellite technology demonstrations. The latest, called Pony Express 2, launched two small satellites this month to test mesh networking in orbit.

“What we’re hearing from the customer is that they need data faster, they need resiliency in space,” Lightfoot said, referring to the U.S. government’s demands.

Testing new tech via small satellite demos, he said, allows Lockheed Martin to address potential issues and mitigate technical risks before large-scale government contracts come into play. 

A case in point is the Space Force’s current pursuit of a more compact and lower-cost version of the Global Positioning System satellites. “We’re looking to collaborate with partners on this project,” Lightfoot added.

A growing focus on partnerships represents a shift for Lockheed Martin, traditionally a prime contractor that mostly works with commercial entities acting as subcontractors on its projects. Lightfoot said the company is open to collaborating with commercial firms in a supporting role as well. “We don’t always have to be the prime,” he said.

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...