Profile | Christopher D. Young, President, ITT Geospatial Systems
ITT’s defense business was flat in 2009, but space-related revenue grew by nearly 8 percent, driven primarily by the company’s work on the GPS satellite navigation system, where it provides the main payloads, and on classified programs.
As part of a broader corporate realignment, ITT recently merged its space systems and night vision equipment divisions, creating a $1.2 billion unit called ITT Geospatial Systems based in Rochester, N.Y. Chris Young, who previously headed the space systems business, took the reins of the combined operation.
Young says the synergies to be had between night vision equipment and space systems segments are not so much on the sensor side as on the data processing and distribution side. Though known primarily for work on satellite payloads, ITT Geospatial Systems also is heavily involved in data processing and delivery, and Young envisions data products that incorporate information from sensors on the ground, in the air and in space.
ITT also is a major player in weather satellite programs, and is developing key sensors for two next-generation systems, one operating in polar orbit and the other in geostationary orbit. The U.S. government recently terminated the civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), but work continues on the main sensors, which will fly as part of a new civil program managed by NASA.
Growth areas for ITT Geospatial Systems include airborne sensors and data processing, a relatively new field for the company. ITT is part of the industrial team on Gorgon Stare, a U.S. Air Force-led effort to develop a multiple camera pod for unmanned aircraft that will provide persistent wide-area surveillance of hotspots in Southwest Asia.
Young, whose company also supplies cameras for commercial imaging satellites, spoke recently with Space News Editor Warren Ferster.
Are there synergies to be had between ITT’s newly combined space systems and night vision equipment divisions?
There are some sensor synergies between the ground and the air, maybe a little into the space, but not as much as into the airborne side of it. But that back end of it, the data processing, data dissemination, that’s all similar, and we can use that across the board.
Is your classified business growing or flat these days?
I would say it’s flat. It could grow depending on the decisions made here in the next few months.
Hasn’t the U.S. government settled on an optical imaging architecture involving two highly capable systems built by longtime incumbent Lockheed Martin and commercial systems for the less-demanding requirements?
Well, I think it has for now. Unfortunately, things have moved a bit to the right. … There is a constant argument about exquisite versus the smaller and can they do the same types of things with different constellations. And I think that conversation is still going in the background. That’s an undercurrent that I see and probably won’t be resolved for a least a year, two years, maybe never. Who knows, right? So we just want to make sure everything stays on track. If it goes the way we think it is, it looks like some of those national systems will go forward, and the EnhancedView [commercial imagery purchasing program] will go forward here in the June or July timeframe.
What percentage of your space revenue is derived from classified work?
About a third.
ITT is part of the Raytheon team that recently won the contract for a new GPS ground system known as the Operational Control Segment. What’s your role?
What we were good at in the space payload side of it was really about the algorithms and the precision timing and navigation waveforms that are put on the GPS system. So what we did was we said, “Look, we have a lot to bring to the ground processing because it’s important.” That kind of core technology, that kind of capability is important to that ground system. So that’s really what we’re bringing.
How big is ITT’s portion of that contract?
The total award will be right between $90 million and $100 million for ITT; that’s our value of the contract, and that’ll be spread over five years, probably a little heavier in the front end than in the back end as we do development.
ITT has had issues with the Cross-track Infrared Sounder it is supplying for the civilian follow-on to the NPOESS program. What’s the status there?
We had some testing issues with some circuit card assemblies that we had to do some repairs on. Right now it is back in thermal vacuum testing and is finishing up. Once it comes out it’ll go for some mechanical measurements and then it’s ready for shipment. So we expect that to happen somewhere in the June-July time frame.
Did the circuit boards fail during thermal vacuum testing the first time around?
We had a failure in thermal vac on one card, and during some of the testing to troubleshoot, we had some damage to those cards. Not unusual for space programs that once you pull things out of the instrument they’re more vulnerable. It wasn’t actually damaged in thermal vac — it was a design issue.
So you discovered the design issue during thermal vacuum testing?
Where does ITT expect to play in NASA’s Earth observation programs in the coming years?
We are very interested in the CO2 measurements, which I believe is a Tier 2 in the decadal survey, and it’s called ASCENDS [Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days, and Seasons]. We believe we have some lidar technology to bring to that party. We’re teamed with NASA’s Langley Research Center, so that’s a good place for us to be, and we’ve spent probably the last seven years working on that technology to get it ready for the ASCENDS mission. We’re also very interested in the CLARREO [Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observation] mission. Again, it fits very nicely with our core competencies.
Following the NPOESS cancellation, the U.S. Air Force will pursue its own polar-orbiting weather satellite system. Is that an opportunity for ITT?
Absolutely. We’re waiting to see what decisions they make as they go forward — the Air Force needs to think through which way they’re going to go — but yes, we would like to help with their mission. I think they just need to work out whether they are going to buy the NPOESS Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or are they going to do something less.
So if they don’t use that Raytheon-built instrument, ITT has an opportunity?
Yes, absolutely. That would be our play.
What are some of the technology trends that you see affecting your business, for better or worse, in the next five years or so?
In the hardware side, I think they’ll continue to push different modalities; they’ll continue to do visible and infrared imaging but hyperspectral now is becoming more important; looking for hard targets. So I think we’ll need to keep up on those kinds of technologies and be able to provide or acquire those kinds of modalities. I think synthetic aperture radar will probably get to be more important too as we go forward.
I think the other side is the ground processing. When you go to all these other modalities, how do you get them down to users in a form that they can actually digest? So getting that data down is going to be a trend — more data getting down directly to the warfighter or to those central locations, and then the analysis part of it.
What’s your reaction to the latest Quadrennial Defense Review?
Well, for my space, specifically because of the airborne push — and they are putting monies into that market area — the good news is we’re well positioned. We’re already in that market, we’re working it, so right now it looks OK for me. We’re not looking at double-digit growth in that market, but I think a good steady growth is possible.
ITT last year won a contract to supply sensors for two Japanese weather satellites. How does your company approach the international marketplace?
The way we look at the international market, on the space side, is really opportunistically. There are a few countries that can afford and have the capabilities of launching and operating satellites, and so we monitor those and we play where we can.
Are there any opportunities on the international horizon?
I think Korea is thinking about going another round of weather satellite capability; certainly the Japanese have already stepped forward. Those are the two big ones right now that I see on the weather side. The other side that we’d like to play in is to be able to take our NextView-class half-meter commercial remote sensing camera and sell that internationally. We’re just kind of beginning to explore that right now.
Several countries have made noise about buying imaging satellites over the years but they always seem to back off. Do you have any indication that they are more serious now?
I can’t tell. And I can’t afford not to keep track of it because they are important systems to us if we can sell them into the international market. We are competing against our friends DigitalGlobe and — there could be some reasons they want to have their own systems.. Why would these countries buy hardware when they can buy the data for a fraction of the cost? There are reasons, some of it comes to national pride
You’ve been working on the GeoEye-2 satellite imaging camera for about two years now. Is that a full-fledged contract yet?
We are just about there. GeoEye had to decide who was going to be their bus provider, and now that they’ve decided, we can go forward and we’re beginning our discussions with Lockheed Martin.
Can you describe ITT’s work on the GPS 3 payload?
We do the entire payload on GPS 3. They send us a panel, we put the entire payload on, we do all the transmitters, receivers, all the digital timing. The clocks, of course, we get from a subcontractor. We’ve got multiple subcontractors there.
Where are you in terms of that payload development?
We’re entering into what we’re calling the critical design review season. We have incremental critical design reviews and then Lockheed will have a system-level review at some point. Over the next quarter, quarter and a half, we’re going to be working through all of our critical design reviews.
When do you expect the critical design review for the full up GPS 3 payload?
I would probably put it in third quarter of this calendar year.
Is another era of defense industry consolidation at hand?
When the budgets are doing well, lots of people can survive in a market that’s growing. As the budgets turn, I think we’re going to enter into a new era of some consolidation. And that’s not a bad thing — it is what it is. So I think we’re kind of at the doorstep of it.