Renewing Focus On Commercial Launches/Satellites

By Amy Svitak
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Cleave declined to discuss Morales 3 launch pricing, but says a commercial Atlas 5 is now competitive with other launch vehicles, including Sea Launch's Ukrainian-Russian Zenit and International Launch Services (ILS) Russian Proton. Although both companies bid on the Morales 3 contract, likely at prices lower than Atlas 5, both endured launch failures in 2013.

Outside of launchers, Lockheed's shift toward commercial customers is evident in its other space businesses as well, including the year-old Commercial Ventures unit that markets the A2100 spacecraft for commercial geostationary missions. In the 1990s, Lockheed Martin made an ambitious push to enter the commercial satellite market, but pulled back after losing money. Today, with 23 A2100s in production, Commercial Ventures President Linda Reiners says only one is commercial: The Jaiburu-1 Ka-band spacecraft being built for Australian startup operator Newsat with financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Reiners says the company initiated enhancements to the A2100 in 2011 to lower costs to attract a more diverse customer base in a satellite market led by Boeing and Space Systems Loral in the U.S., and EADS-Astrium and Thales Alenia Space in Europe.

“We've struggled to be competitive in the last couple of years,” she says, noting they expect to be “very competitive” within a year.

The improved A2100 that will evolve over the next few years is to be scalable and flexible, with extended life on orbit, shorter production cycles, a broad power range and a new, optional all-electric propulsion system based on Hall effect thrusters that Reiners says will cut lengthy orbit-raising times in half.

“Our technology has greater thrust than other systems available,” she explains, in reference to Boeing's new 702 SP all-electric spacecraft unveiled last year. Based on xenon-ion propulsion (XIP) technology, the 702 SP can take 6-8 months to deliver a satellite to its final orbital position after separation. “Our system takes three to four months, depending on how far you are going and how much you weigh.”

Craig Cooning, vice president of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, says Hall thrusters on the A2100 may get a satellite to orbit faster than XIPs, but the 702 SP offers greater payload capacity on a bus small enough to accommodate dual launches on a Falcon 9. “A small satellite with a lot more capacity is a great trade for an extra 60 days of orbit-raising.”

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