WASHINGTON — Loft Orbital has ordered an additional 15 satellite buses from Airbus OneWeb Satellites to meet growing demand for its standardized space platforms.
Loft Orbital said April 6 that it ordered the buses, which it calls Longbow, from Airbus OneWeb Satellites, the joint venture of Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb. The satellites will be produced at the Airbus OneWeb Satellites facility in Florida adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.
The Longbow bus is based on the design of the bus used for OneWeb satellites. “We made a number of modifications to that platform to be able to accommodate a number of higher resolution, higher stability optical missions, and be able to have a longer lifetime,” said Pierre-Damien Vaujour, chief executive of Loft Orbital, in an interview. That design, he noted, is different from the Arrow bus that Airbus markets and is produced at the same factory.
Loft Orbital ordered more than 15 of the same Longbow buses from Airbus OneWeb Satellites in January 2022. He said the semi-automated production line at that Florida factory enables those satellites to be produced in large numbers quickly to support customers planning larger constellations.
Loft Orbital has previously ordered satellites from LeoStella as well as Raytheon and another company that Vaujour declined to disclose. He said the company will continue to work with multiple satellite bus suppliers rather than pursue economies of scale by consolidating orders with a single supplier.
“We’ve been very fortunate to work with Airbus. We see them as a true partner,” he said. “We also intend to order from others in the future.”
That fits into the company’s approach of providing an “abstraction layer” for customers, handling the technical details of both the space and ground segment. “We can fly any payloads on any satellite bus using any ground segment network deployed on any cloud,” he said. “This is important when you have either technical needs that are better addressed by one satellite than another or when there are non-technical needs” such as regulatory of geopolitical issues.
The company is seeing strong interest in that approach. Vaujour said he thought the initial order of more than 15 Longbow buses would last “quite a long time” but those were sold out in six months. That includes a contract with EarthDaily Analytics in January 2022 to build and operate a 10-satellite Earth observation constellation, which is the largest single deal Loft has announced to date.
The demand is coming from a variety of customers, such as government agencies, traditional space companies and startups. Those customers, he said, want data from their payloads but won’t want to deal with all the technical details of building and operating satellites. “That’s why we brand Loft as an infrastructure company, because what we do is let customers focus on deploying their mission in space.”
That approach requires Loft to maintain an inventory of satellite buses and components, which has allowed it to avoid delays because of supply chain issues endemic in the space industry today. “We ordered parts way before we have customers,” he said. “We’re seeing the same issues, but the main difference is for us suppliers are not on the critical path.”
Loft Orbital now has more than 150 employees, Vaujour said, and has been expanding facilities to be able to produce more satellites. The company raised $140 million in late 2021, which he said is sufficient to meet its current plans. “We’ve been fortunate to hire exceptional people. We have all the capital we need. We have the customers. It’s really just about executing now.”