“I have been the ‘change agent’ throughout my career…understanding end users’ unmet needs is an absolute priority.”
EM: Can you tell us a little bit about SSL Government Systems?
Rob Zitz: SSL’s Government Systems group is made up of highly experienced, cleared professionals with deep domain expertise in defense and intelligence missions. The group is focused on leveraging its commercial processes to serve the U.S. government’s most pressing needs, providing end-to-end solutions at lower costs and with faster schedules than traditional government missions. The group combines SSL’s long heritage of spacecraft and space robotics manufacturing with services such as concept and systems development, advanced imagery and signal processing, multi-intelligence analytics, change detection, and big data analytics.
EM: I see you joined SSL in April as SVP and Chief Strategy Officer. How have your background and past experiences prepared you for your current role?
Rob Zitz: I have been involved in strategy, budgeting, R&D and operations for the last 38 years inside and outside of government. I have been the “change agent” throughout my career and I know understanding end users’ unmet needs is an absolute priority. I have always been involved in developing strategies to resolve key gaps and building constituency needed to turn strategy into budgetary and programmatic change. Over the years I led a number of studies regarding the future of defense and intelligence space systems and associated ground architectures. In industry I lead a space mission assurance group and a small satellite working group. When Howard Lance, CEO of MDA asked me to come lead his strategy for SSL MDA’s growth in the U.S. Government market, I knew I could have a real impact in the corporation while helping my customers answer their space and ground systems needs.
EM: You have been in the role several months now. What are some things that you had not expected? What are you currently focused on?
Rob Zitz: I am constantly amazed at the depth of expertise in our company and the almost unbelievable technologies we build. Before coming to SSL MDA, I had assumed on-orbit serving of satellites with advanced robotics was something we would achieve in the future. I found that it is real and it is now and it can support national security missions today. I began defining a concept for a high quality commercial radar satellite to support customers’ needs for assured persistence and I found a rich set of proven systems and technologies ready to meet the needs. It’s an exciting time to be in SSL MDA and I’m honored to be in a position to support our customers.
EM: Can you tell us more about Earth imagery and analysis services that SSL offers?
Rob Zitz: SSL MDA can provide end-to-end Earth imagery and analytics solutions, from the manufacturing of both GEO and LEO spacecraft for Earth observation through the distillation and analysis of big data into actionable intelligence with the use of change detection. Our industry-leading heritage in this domain includes our high-resolution RADARSAT 1 and 2 satellites, which have been delivering Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery to support complex and demanding government operations since 1995, the high-resolution LEO imaging constellations that we’re building for Planet and DigitalGlobe, as well as our advanced geospatial analytics tools.
At SSL, we recognize that US. Intelligence and defense agencies are looking for innovative approaches to address their unique and demanding challenges, and we stand ready to leverage our system-of-systems approach, which combines multi-intelligence tipping and cueing, advanced image and signal processing, and other GEOINT analytics to provide key insights and intelligence solutions.
EM: What are some of the technology developments and new market opportunities that you’re seeing in the government space sector?
Rob Zitz: It is an exciting time to be in the industry. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the space landscape rapidly shift and leap forward with new capabilities, such as in-orbit satellite servicing and assembly, space robotics, and advanced small satellite technologies. SSL has been an innovator in its field, and is working with NASA and DARPA to introduce satellite servicing technologies that will provide unprecedented resilience with the ability to inspect, augment, refuel, and repair spacecraft fleets in GEO and LEO orbits, even for spacecraft that weren’t originally designed to be serviced.
Small satellites with advanced capabilities are making access to space less expensive and more accessible to a broader set of players. This is leading to greater persistence and resilience, with large constellations of small satellites offering the ability to rapidly revisit critical regions on Earth and detecting important changes in time to make a difference. This technology is being amplified by the continued advances in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data exploitation, including sophisticated implementation of change detection to support analysts overwhelmed with data.