WASHINGTON — Under pressure from the Pentagon to bring fresh ideas to the table, military satellite manufacturers are trying to build closer connections with startups and entrepreneurs that are fueling the space economy.
Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest military contractor, rolled out a new initiative this week to attract “aspiring space technologists.” It has decided to publicly release the technical specifications of its satellite platforms in a bid to attract “companies aspiring to send innovative technologies to space,” the company announced on Thursday.
“This is intended to help people connect to our buses,” Lockheed Martin spokesman Mark Lewis told SpaceNews. “If developers know the specs in advance, that speeds up their development and integration time.”
Lockheed only is interested in non-proprietary ideas and products. “We’re pretty open to all types of technologies, ranging from helping first responders address crises faster, studying the environment, creating ultra-high-capacity communications links and adapting low-cost commercial technology to the punishing environments of space. We’re open to any concept, and we’ll look for the best matches for our customers.”
The company has produced more than 800 satellites. Under the “open space” project, Lockheed will publish technical details of the payload accommodation for its LM 2100 satellite platform, LM 400 small satellite and two variants of its new LM 50 nanosat series.
The LM 2100 is the foundation for more than 40 satellites in orbit today, including weather, missile warning and commercial communications satellites. The LM 400 is a reconfigurable bus that can go to low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits. The LM 50 is a small satellite series that can host a remote sensing, communications and scientific payloads.
The payload accommodation specifications were posted on the company’s website. Submissions are due May 11.
Lockheed Martin invited startups, researchers and established companies to pitch technologies at a space industry conference in Silicon Valley on Wednesday.
Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said the company is motivated to team up with space-focused businesses. “We’re not just offering launch slots, we’re ready to help new companies integrate their groundbreaking technologies with powerful satellite platforms.”
Lockheed’s bid to attract tech partners comes as the company faces competitive challenges in its military satellite business. The Pentagon intends to re-compete the manufacturing of GPS satellites that Lockheed has owned for a decade. The Defense Department in general is looking to shake up satellite programs amid growing concerns they have become too expensive and vulnerable to cyber attacks.
“Innovation is the new DoD buzz word and mantra,” defense industry analyst Byron Callan, of Capital Alpha Partners, wrote in a note to investors. “Thinking about the 2018-20 timeframe, unmanned systems might start replacing manned ones, low-cost swarms of weapons could replace more expensive precision weapons, networks of sensors could replace high-value intelligence platforms, and new space constellations could replace higher cost satellites.”