Northstar's Skylark constellation of space situational awareness satellites will have optical sensors for tracking other satellites across multiple orbits. Credit: Northstar

WASHINGTON — NorthStar Earth & Space, a company planning a satellite constellation to collect space situational awareness (SSA) data, is working with Spire to field an initial fleet of spacecraft.

The companies announced March 16 that Spire will develop three 12-unit cubesats for launch in 2023 that will carry sensors for collecting SSA data for NorthStar. They did not disclose financial terms of the deal but said that the agreement includes options for dozens of additional satellites.

The satellites will be operated as part of the broader Spire constellation of cubesats through what Spire calls a “space-as-a-service” agreement. The spacecraft will be Spire’s first 12-unit cubesats with additional power and edge computing capabilities.

“Maintaining pace with the exponential increase in space activity demands immediate action from commercial innovators. Spire provides on-board processing, tasking, flexibility and agility within an attractive service level agreement business model,” Stewart Bain, chief executive of NorthStar, said in a statement.

Montreal-based NorthStar previously ordered three larger satellites, called Skylarks, from Thales Alenia Space, working in cooperation with LeoStella. Those satellites were originally scheduled to launch in 2022, but as of August 2021 the company had expected those satellites to launch no earlier than 2023 as it worked to secure Canadian government licenses.

Spire and NorthStar have European ties. Both companies have their European headquarters in Luxembourg and have raised funding from the Luxembourg Future Fund (LFF). NorthStar announced LFF would join a $45 million round in December 2021, while LFF participated in Spire’s $70 million Series C round in 2017.

“This is a landmark contract for the industry, demonstrating the speed, scale, and agility of Spire’s space- as-a-service model,” said Peter Platzer, chief executive of Spire, in a statement. “Leveraging Spire’s existing infrastructure and expertise will help NorthStar accelerate the timeline to deploy and scale in space.”

Spire announced a similar space-as-a-service deal with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) March 7. Under that agreement, Spire will build four six-unit cubesats for SNC for radio-frequency intelligence, such as identifying sources of interference.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...