Rickers says competition in the satellite manufacturing sector will increase, but he also anticipates consolidation. He says about 10 years ago, when the market dipped, some consolidation occurred in the defense satellite business, but not in the commercial satellite sector, even though it was predicted at the time.
Lockheed Martin has also been working on electric propulsion for commercial satellites. The A and AX use chemical propulsion, but the company has used electric propulsion on government satellites. Electric propulsion makes satellites lighter, so communications payloads can be increased. The challenge is getting the price point low enough so electric propulsion can be used.
Rickers says another key breakthrough is lithium battery technology, but adds Lockheed Martin is waiting for more competition among suppliers of lithium battery cells. The company buys battery cells from Saft, a European company, and uses those cells to build lithium batteries. Rickers says Saft currently controls the supply of these cells, but the entry of new players will lower prices.
Lockheed Martin has also developed active array technology, allowing the direction and shape of satellite beams to be changed electronically rather than with mechanical switches, providing weight savings. Rickers also predicts antennas on satellites will get smaller.
Development of the AXL commercial satellite will be completed within four years, says Rickers. But he cautions it will occur in stages and be an evolution, so customers will see some AXL product features being functional earlier than others.