Loft Orbital fills first condosat, preps for quarterly launches

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WASHINGTON — Loft Orbital, a company preparing a constellation to carry payloads for customers who don’t want to operate their own satellites, has filled up its first satellite and booked a January 2020 launch through Spaceflight Industries.

San Francisco-based Loft Orbital will carry five customer payloads on its first mission, designated YAM-2, Alex Greenberg, Loft Orbital co-founder and head of operations, told SpaceNews. Greenberg said the satellite will launch aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle to low Earth orbit.

Greenberg said the YAM-2 satellite will use a chassis from Blue Canyon Technologies, and has a mass slightly under 100 kilograms. Customers on the mission include hyperspectral imaging startup Orbital Sidekick, blockchain startup SpaceChain, and a UAE government agency, he said. Greenberg declined to identify the other two customers for YAM-2, but said one is an established geostationary satellite operator.

Pierre-Damien Vaujour, Loft Orbital co-founder and head of product, said a second “condosat” is 85 percent filled with customers, and a third is 15 percent booked.

Greenberg said YAM stands for “Yet Another Mission,” and represents what the company hopes will be the start of an escalating launch cadence. Loft Orbital is aiming for three or four satellites in orbit by the end of 2020, he said. The company envisions a higher launch rate following those early spacecraft.

“We are thinking about three or four satellites a quarter on a given launch, which could mean about 10 satellites a year,” Vaujour said. “That’s pretty much where we want to be by the end of 2021.”

Loft Orbital does have a YAM-1 mission planned, Vaujour said, but he declined to give details on that mission.

Vaujour said Loft Orbital doesn’t have a target constellation size. Some prospective customers are discussing systems that would require upward of 40 satellites, he said.

Greenberg said Fugro, a Netherlands-based geologic data company that generated 1.65 billion euros ($1.84 billion) in revenue last year, has a payload launching on a future Loft Orbital satellite, but doesn’t have current plans for more than a tech demo mission.

Loft Orbital doesn’t build satellites, but is developing a payload hub to serve as a universal adapter to fit customer payloads inside different spacecraft buses. Greenberg said Loft Orbital is outsourcing the hardware for the hub, but writing all the software that will enable payloads to interface with their host satellite.

Vaujour said the company is working closely with Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in the U.K., and Luxembourg-based OHB LuxSpace on making the payload hub compatible with their satellite platforms.

“We are very rigid about not redesigning the satellite for each mission,” Greenberg said. “We use the same family of satellite designs for all the missions we will ever do.”

Greenberg said Loft Orbital settled on a target mass of around 100 kilograms for each satellite. The customers Loft is seeking typically have payloads between 5 and 10 kilograms, a range Vaujour said often makes them too large for a cubesat but not big enough to warrant a stand-alone microsatellite.

Loft Orbital consists of about 20 people, and envisions growing to 25 to 30 by the end of the year, Greenberg said. The company raised $3.2 million in 2017, and last year unveiled a network of 21 partners across the launch, manufacturing, ground segment and analytics sectors. Vaujour said Loft Orbital has modestly expanded that partner network by adding SSTL and OHB LuxSpace, but intends to strengthen existing partnerships rather than continue adding partners.