April 11, 2013
Boeing’s space business is in a “relatively healthy position” despite a flattening of the military space budget, says Roger Krone, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems.
This is partly due to the company’s strong commercial business. The space sector has the luxury of balancing fluctuations between its military and commercial customers much as Boeing corporate does with its aircraft business, which is divided between military and commercial customers.
“For us, the level of activity is higher than we have seen it historically,” Krone says. The company has expanded its portfolio of satellites to include the 702SP, a small, all-electric satellite designed for communications in geosyncronous orbit.
The success of designing and selling the 702SP led the company’s leadership to use the same team to craft the new Phantom Phoenix concept of a family of three small satellites ranging from 4-1,000 kg. The company is focusing on testing software and avionics that would be common among the three spacecraft in an effort to reduce the price. Officials are briefing interested customers.
The 702 SP “opened up markets that we couldn’t have addressed two or three years ago,” Krone says.
Since the beginning of the year, Boeing has responded to 18 requests for proposals, 14 of which have included an offer of the 702 SP, which is designed to use electric propulsion for maneuvering into geosynchronous orbit. This innovation eliminates the need for chemical tanks on the satellite, freeing up more space for payload.
The addition of this satellite as part of the company’s portfolio of offerings over the past several years — something of a return to its Hughes roots — hase distinguished it in a tough market, according to one industry official who does not work at Boeing and asked not to be named owing to sensitivities at his own company. This executive notes that since Boeing struggled with the Future Imagery Architecture program, a defunct electro-optical and radar program for the National Reconnaissance Office, Boeing’s space sector has turned around on its performance and offerings. This official notes that the company has shifted its focus toward the commercial market, but also maintained strong business in the classified world and the Air Force, which is rapidly fielding Wideband Global Satcom spacecraft for the Pentagon.
Krone notes that the company is in talks with various customers for sales of the 702 SP, and the purchases will be “event-driven.” He says,“Boeing believes there will be a shift to lower weight satellites” from commercial and military customers.
Air Force Space Command chief Gen. William Shelton is pushing his staff and industry to consider using smaller satellites for future missions – such as the defense weather mission. A key enabler will be the potential emergence of a market of new smaller launch vehicles, which would reduce the price to field constellations.