WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin plans to launch the first demonstration mission of its new LM 400 mid-sized satellite bus in 2023, the company announced Jan. 31

The first demonstration bus will kick off a “regular series of self-funded on-orbit LM 400 technology demonstration missions,” the company said. 

The 2023 mission will carry a Lockheed Martin narrowband communications electronically steered array payload. A second demonstrator projected to fly in 2024 will be a synthetic aperture radar payload.

The demonstration missions are intended to show the bus’ performance in low, medium and geostationary orbits. Lockheed Martin will produce these satellites at a new 3.5 million square-foot facility in Denver. 

The LM 400 is aimed at the defense market, particularly for remote sensing, communications and persistent surveillance applications. Raytheon selected the bus to build missile-tracking satellites for the U.S. Space Force, the first of which would launch in 2026.

The size of an average home refrigerator, the LM 400 can be adapted for higher power and larger payloads and packaged to enable multiple satellites per launch, said Matt Mahlman, director of strategy and capture at Lockheed Martin Space.

“Our goal is to accelerate the technical maturity of our satellites and advanced payloads, as well as showcase how new capabilities can be delivered quickly to customers,” he said.

The company is not yet announcing which launch provider will fly these demonstration missions. Lockheed Martin in 2021 signed a contract with ABL Space Systems to launch as many as 58 missions on ABL’s RS1 rocket through 2029. Lockheed Martin is also a strategic investor in ABL. 

ABL’s first launch failed earlier this month and it’s unclear when it will make another attempt. 

A Lockheed Martin spokesman told SpaceNews that the company is “committed to supporting our launch partner ABL and are excited for their next flight opportunity. With regard to the LM 400 tech demo, we will announce our launch plans as soon as we have passed full testing of the system.”

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...