WorldView Legion Maxar SSL
Artist's rendition of WorldView Legion satellites. Credit: Maxar Technologies.

SAN FRANCISCO – Maxar Technologies is on track to begin integrating Earth-imaging sensors built by Raytheon Intelligence & Space with WorldView Legion satellites this summer in spite of challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers spaced apart and wearing personal protective gear are integrating and testing satellites in San Francisco Bay Area facilities for Maxar and sensors in El Segundo, California, for Raytheon.

Maxar will begin integrating the satellites and sensors “later this year for a first launch early in 2021 and a second launch in the latter part of 2021,” Walter Scott, Maxar executive vice president and chief technology officer, told SpaceNews.

The WorldView Legion constellation, scheduled to launch on two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, is a high priority for both companies.

With the first block of six WorldView Legion satellites, Maxar intends to triple its collection of imagery with a resolution of 30 centimeters while offering views of specific regions as many as 15 times a day.

WorldView Legion performance will be “as good or better in many cases than the systems that preceded it,” Scott said.

The initial block of six WorldView Legion satellites will cost $600 million including launch and ground system development. In contrast, the single-satellite WorldView-4 program carried an $850 million price tag. Each WorldView Legion satellite is expected to collect about half as much imagery as WorldView-4.

“It’s a pretty dramatic improvement in both capability and capacity for much less money,” Scott said.

For Raytheon, WorldView Legion demonstrates the company’s ability to apply manufacturing expertise honed on airborne sensors to space, Wallis Laughrey, Raytheon Space Systems vice president, told SpaceNews.

Traditionally, government and military satellite customers purchase a single high-performance imager. Because Raytheon is building six at a time for WorldView Legion, the firm was able to establish a production line and take advantage of technologies including “3D model-based instruction for assembly, software-based automated telescope alignment systems and additive manufacturing,” Laughrey said.

While WorldView Legion remains on track, producing six satellites and sensors during a pandemic does present challenges.

Raytheon is “working extensively with suppliers to help them navigate some of the challenges,” Laughrey said. For example, Raytheon is accelerating payments and helping suppliers apply for assistance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed in March, he added.

Maxar activated a pandemic crisis response plan in March. The plan limits the number of people in its manufacturing facilities, augments cleaning procedures, spreads work over more shifts.

Once WorldView Legion sensors are delivered this summer, Maxar plans to begin integrating them with satellites at a rate of about once a month.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...