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Terran Orbital creates new business unit to produce imaging satellites

The main target customers are national governments around the world that don’t have sovereign constellations
WASHINGTON -- With the Ares 1 upper-stage production work under contract, NASA's attention now shifts to the competition to produce the manned rocket's instrumented avionics ring.

WASHINGTON — Satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital has formed a new business unit that will produce electro-optical imaging satellites, the company announced Dec. 8.

Named Optical Solutions Group, this segment of the company plans to sell both off-the-shelf and custom-made imaging satellites, Terran Orbital’s CEO Marc Bell told SpaceNews.

Bell said the company in the first quarter of 2023 will unveil an electro-optical satellite product line that customers can order from a catalog. “Instead of waiting for two years to design and build a satellite, you will be able to order it and get it within weeks,” he said. 

The satellites will be made with Terran Orbital’s buses and sensors from partner companies. Bell said the company is expanding its manufacturing capacity so it can produce small and large buses of up to 800 kilograms.

Headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, Terran Orbital manufactures satellites in Irvine, California,

The company’s foray into the electro-optical satellite imaging market follows its recent move to cancel a planned synthetic aperture radar constellation and instead build SAR satellites and sell them directly to commercial operators or government agencies. 

Electro-optical satellites take photographs from space by converting light from the target object into digital images. The U.S. government operates its own E/O imaging satellites and also buys imagery from commercial providers like Maxar, BlackSky, Planet and Satellogic.

Bell said Terran Orbital’s satellites are aimed at national governments around the world that don’t have sovereign constellations and are looking for lower cost options. “A lot of people have been asking for this,” he said. “There are many countries that want to control their own satellites and get their own data.” 

Alex Pertica, recently hired as vice president for space domain awareness solutions at Terran Orbital, will lead the  Optical Solutions Group.

Pertica joined Terran Orbital after a 36-year career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he managed space science and national security projects. 

Industry sources who asked to not be quoted by name said Terran Orbital’s plan would put the company in somewhat direct competition with companies like Maxar, Airbus, Thales Alenia and others that manufacture satellites for the Earth observation market.

“It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and whether Terran Orbital can gain traction,” one executive said. “They’ve got an uphill climb in terms of flight heritage.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...