A rendering of a Telesat Lightspeed satellite based on MDA's new software-defined platform. Credit: Telesat

TAMPA, Fla. — An undisclosed customer is paying MDA 180 million Canadian dollars ($131 million) to start engineering a non-geostationary constellation of 36 satellites.

The deal could be worth at least four times more if the Canadian space hardware specialist advances to become prime contractor for the constellation next year, MDA said in a brief Nov. 17 news release.

MDA spokesperson Amy MacLeod declined to give more details on the Authorization to Proceed (ATP) contract, which kicks off early work for a satellite project such as procuring long-lead items.

It is the second customer order MDA has announced for a new software-defined satellite design that can be reconfigured in orbit to respond to changes in demand. 

Telesat chose MDA’s latest spacecraft product this summer for 198, 750-kilogram satellites the Canadian operator aims to start deploying in mid-2026 for its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) Lightspeed broadband constellation.

Based on a different spacecraft design, MDA is also providing Globalstar of the United States 17 LEO satellites in 2025 to refresh a constellation Apple uses for the iPhone’s space-enabled emergency services.

MacLeod said MDA is busy expanding production facilities in Montreal to accommodate growing demand from constellation customers, ultimately aiming to have the capacity to produce two satellites a day.

Production volumes are “ramping in line with customer orders,” she said without elaborating.

Although MDA has successfully produced satellite components at scale, including 2,000 antennas delivered for OneWeb’s LEO constellation, Quilty Space analyst Caleb Henry said building three constellations at once would create schedule risk for the manufacturer.

“MDA’s recent claim to fame is a combination of digital payloads and advanced beam-forming antennas that have the benefit of reducing Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) on spacecraft,” Henry added via email. 

“In a world where spacecraft tend to keep getting bigger, this technology presents a rare opportunity to go smaller without sacrificing on capability.”

Telesat became the anchor customer for MDA’s latest satellite platform after ditching plans for Lightspeed with Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, which the Canadian operator said would have cost $2 billion more.

Armand Musey, a satellite industry analyst and founder of Summit Ridge Group, said MDA could be taking another project from a rival manufacturer with higher costs.

The contract also comes weeks after MDA closed its acquisition of SatixFy Space Systems UK Ltd, Israeli satcoms equipment maker SatixFy’s U.K.-based satellite payload subsidiary.

MDA said Oct. 31 the acquisition would accelerate the company’s expansion into the United Kingdom, adding strategic in-country capability to produce satellite payloads while helping to advance its new digital satellite product offering.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...