WASHINGTON — Maxar, an Earth imaging company, is looking to build a new business imaging objects in space.
The company predicts a burgeoning market for high-resolution images of objects in orbit amid growing congestion and security concerns, said Tony Frazier, Maxar’s executive vice president and general manager of public sector Earth intelligence.
The company last year announced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved a modification to the company’s remote-sensing license so it can use its Earth imaging satellites to take pictures of objects in space and sell them commercially. The license applies to Maxar’s four current satellites and its WorldView Legion constellation that has not yet launched.
Frazier told SpaceNews the company is in discussions with the U.S. Space Force and other agencies that could use this data to identify potential threats and monitor suspicious activity in space.
“Our conversations with the DoD are about how we can extend our satellite imaging beyond the terrestrial domain into the space domain,” he said.
“We can turn our satellites up in space and do high-resolution characterization of low Earth orbit objects,” Frazier said.
This type of imagery also would support space traffic management and spaceflight safety in the increasingly congested lower orbits where there will be tens of thousands of satellites in the not too distant future. Many will be internet satellites operated by SpaceX and Amazon, but there will also be as many as 13,000 Chinese satellites.
As part of its $3.2 billion contract with the National Reconnaissance Office, Maxar is providing non-Earth imaging to the agency and now the company is seeking to add DoD customers. “We’ve been having a lot of conversations about how to scale that up to support broader DoD missions in space, situational awareness, space domain awareness for both U.S. and allied partners,” said Frazier.
The company’s WorldView satellites would collect high-resolution images of other spacecraft and send them to the Space Force’s data repository known as the unified data library, he said. This data library also will support the civilian space traffic management system being developed by the Office of Space Commerce.
“A number of these capabilities were done with just government sensors in the past and so the fact that you can leverage commercial to address these missions is a game changer,” he said.
The Space Force has been working with several commercial companies that provide space domain awareness data but has yet to establish a procurement vehicle to purchase commercial services. Much of the demand for this data comes from U.S. Space Command which currently monitors 48,000 objects in orbit as part of its space traffic management responsibilities and also for national security.
Frazier said he expects a “large requirement” for space domain awareness data from commercial sources that, unlike images from classified government satellites, can be shared with allies.