WASHINGTON — Satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital announced plans to produce a new line of small satellite buses designed to operate in geostationary Earth orbit.

The company said it will compete in the so-called small GEO satellite market with a new bus named SmallSat GEO for satellites above 500 kg.

Small GEO satellites are an emerging class of spacecraft designed for geostationary orbit 22,236 miles above Earth’s surface. This orbital perch has traditionally been the territory of large, heavyweight communications satellites that beam data to permanently pointed antennas on the ground.  

Small satellites typically have been deployed in low Earth orbit but are now being offered as a more flexible alternative for geostationary applications. They typically weigh in the range of  400 to 1,700 kg compared to tons for traditional GEO satellites.

Commercial and military operators are exploring the use of small geosynchronous satellites to enhance communications networks. 

Market moving to smaller sats

“The geosynchronous market is moving more towards small satellites with more and more GEO spacecraft ordered in the small size class,” Marc Bell, chief executive and co-founder of Terran Orbital, said in a news release March 14.

“We can bring our LEO small satellite heritage to GEO,” Bell said. “Terran Orbital is leveraging its investment in a 94,000 square-foot manufacturing facility, as well as three previous GEO missions, to expand into this market.”

Terran Orbital makes small satellites in Irvine, California, for commercial and government entities. One of its major customers and investors, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, recently bid to acquire the company.

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 two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...