WASHINGTON — Raytheon Technologies last month won a $250 million contract to build seven missile-detection satellites for the U.S. Space Development Agency.
David Broadbent, president of space and command-and-control systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said the company is working to deliver the seven satellites by 2025 but plans to pursue a different strategy in future SDA satellite procurements.
Rather than compete as a prime contractor offering fully integrated satellites, Raytheon wants to shift to a merchant supplier role, providing satellite buses and payloads to other prime contractors.
“Being in a mission prime position hasn’t yielded the results that we were looking for, and we’re now focused on a merchant strategy,” he told SpaceNews.
Raytheon has traditionally been a prime contractor that integrates subsystems from other companies. But Broadbent argues that approach has not helped the company win satellite contracts and take advantage of innovative space products made by its subsidiaries Blue Canyon Technologies and SEAKR Engineering.
Blue Canyon and SEAKR manufacture satellite buses and space electronics, respectively.
SDA’s Tracking Layer
The seven satellites Raytheon is building will be part of SDA’s Tracking Layer, a military network in low Earth orbit designed to track ballistic and hypersonic missiles launched by foreign adversaries.
Before getting this order, Raytheon had previously competed for SDA contracts, largely unsuccessfully, Broadbent noted.
The $250 million award Raytheon got in February for SDA’s Tracking Layer Tranche 1 only materialized because the agency got an unplanned funding boost from Congress in the 2023 budget. Two contractors for the Tracking Layer Tranche 1 — L3Harris and Northrop Grumman — already had been selected last summer and each won contracts for 14 satellites.
Raytheon competed in 2020 and 2021 for Tranche 0 and Tranche 1 contracts. The company in 2020 filed a protest, unsuccessfully challenging the Tranche 0 decision. “Unfortunately that alienated us from SDA for quite some time,” said Broadbent.
In the Tranche 1 competition, Raytheon scored third highest out of five bidders, he said, so when SDA got additional funds, it decided to award Raytheon seven satellites, half of what the top two winners got.
SDA was especially interested in the wide-field-of-view infrared sensor that Raytheon developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Blackjack program under a $37 million contract awarded in 2020.
“It’s a unique payload in that it has a single aperture that can perform both the missile detect and the track mission,” Broadbent said. “The configuration is suited to the polar mission.”
During the recent Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Broadbent met with several defense contractors that are shopping for satellite buses and other components for SDA’s future satellite competitions. Blue Canyon’s X-SAT Saturn bus., he said, could be used both for SDA’s Tracking Layer or for the Transport Layer of communications satellites.
Raytheon’s wide-field-of-view payload and communications systems developed by SEAKR also would be offered to prime contractors, said Broadbent.
“We are making a very deliberate pivot,” he said. “I think we can optimize our chances of success by acting as a merchant vendor or subcontractor and looking for partnerships with other credible space primes,” he added. “And that’s kind of where we are at the moment.”
A different way of doing business
SDA’s approach to buying satellites from multiple prime contractors under fixed-price contracts is “revolutionizing space acquisitions,” Broadbent said.
The agency has been a “huge disrupter,” he said.
“Let’s call it what it is,” Broadbent added. “Raytheon and many of our traditional defense primes were constructed around sole source classified cost-plus businesses, and five to seven-year acquisition cycles.”
Those markets no longer exist, he said. “So we’ve had to take a very hard look at ourselves … and drive to a far more efficient model of producing capabilities.”
Raytheon Technologies more broadly had to reorganize after absorbing new businesses through mergers and acquisitions. Broadbent said. “We found ourselves in a situation where we had an incredible amount of mission and product capability, but we had to simplify it.”
Blue Canyon and SEAKR Engineering brought into the company a “culture and an atmosphere of innovation that we’re really trying to leverage” as Raytheon competes for SDA opportunities, he added.
The wide-field-of-view infrared sensor developed for DARPA is 95% complete, Broadbent said, but DARPA decided to not put the payload on its Blackjack satellites so the sensor will be provided to SDA as “government furnished equipment.”
DARPA plans to launch later this year four Blackjack satellites built on Blue Canyon buses and equipped with SEAKR radio-frequency communications payloads. This mission is a “credibility milestone for us,” he said.