Loft Orbital orders more LeoStella satellite buses

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TAMPA, Fla. — Condosat operator Loft Orbital has ordered another batch of small satellite buses from LeoStella after securing undisclosed customers looking to fly payloads in 2023.

The companies declined to discuss how many buses were ordered, but Loft Orbital CEO Pierre-Damien Vaujour told SpaceNews that customers have already fully booked one of them and another is “partially full.” Both of those satellites are targeting a launch in the first half of 2023.

Vaujour said: “We always try to procure satellite buses before we have customers, but we keep running into the issue of needing more satellites buses, because we see more customer demand than anticipated.”

San Francisco-based Loft Orbital is building a small fleet of multipurpose satellites to carry payloads and provide services on behalf of companies that do not want the hassle or expense of buying or flying their own satellites. 

LeoStella primarily builds satellites for its part-owner BlackSky, an Earth observation operator, but also sells products including its LEO-100 commercial off-the-shelf satellite bus to third parties.

The Jan. 6 announcement from Loft Orbital that it ordered multiple LEO-100 buses from LeoStella comes soon after the company raised $140 million in a funding round led by investment giant BlackRock.

“Now that we have more capital, we anticipate placing a large order of buses soon to build inventory in order to resolve this issue and be able to address our customer needs,” Vaujour said, adding that the company will seek to procure buses from multiple partners. 

Boulder, Colorado-based Blue Canyon built the satellite bus for the YAM-2 satellite that launched on a SpaceX rideshare mission in June, and for YAM-4 that is counting down to a launch in the fourth quarter of 2022.

LeoStella, a joint venture between BlackSky and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, built the bus for Loft Orbital’s YAM-3 satellite that launched on the same rideshare mission as YAM-2 in June, as well as for the YAM-5 that plans to launch in the second quarter of 2022.

French satellite operator Eutelsat and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are among YAM -3’s customers.

YAM-5 has been fully booked for some time, added Vaujour, who said customers include one of the top 10 largest companies by market capitalization, a large civil space agency, a U.S. prime contractor and a connectivity provider for small devices.

“While we can’t disclose any individual use case, most of the use cases we are seeing revolve around AI and Autonomy applications,” he said. 

Brian Rider, chief technology officer at LeoStella, told SpaceNews that pandemic-related supply chain and operational issues “have not significantly slowed satellite production” that it aims to ramp up this year.

“The fact that we operate in a continuous manufacturing model allows us to build in a schedule buffer between our supply chain parts and production need dates,” Rider said.

“We expect to keep that buffer wherever possible to ensure our production line continues uninterrupted.”