When working with U.S. government agencies on defining next-generation space technologies, industry leaders across the board are all hands on-deck. SSL Government Systems, for instance, is helping the U.S. Air Force test the security of hosting payloads on commercial satellites; researching power and propulsion for NASA’s Deep Space gateway; developing concepts for advanced military satellite communications; and helping to ensure that our nation has a cost-effective and resilient space architecture. The capabilities proven in these studies will certainly play a key role in enabling future missions. To get an expert opinion on the future of space technologies, ExecutiveBiz talked to Richard White, President of SSL Government Systems, for his commentary on what looms on the horizon for America’s (and humanity’s) presence outside our atmosphere.
“The space industry is currently going through a creative boom that is enabling the realization of many new and exciting technologies that were only dreamed of in Hollywood. Deep space exploration and the Journey to Mars…it’s becoming a reality.”
EM: Tell us about Maxar Technologies. How does combining SSL and MDA with DigitalGlobe add value for your customers and shareholders?
Richard White: Last month, we announced that MDA and DigitalGlobe have combined to create Maxar Technologies. The newly combined company, which is based in the U.S. and counts 6,500 employees and $3.1 billion in 2016 revenue, offers a broader set of space-based solutions, increased scale, and a more diversified revenue base. The business units under Maxar Technologies, which include SSL, MDA, DigitalGlobe, and Radiant Solutions, vertically integrate to provide best-in-class large and small satellite design and manufacturing, space robotics, radar and optical capabilities, ground systems, and advanced geospatial expertise and analytics to commercial and government customers worldwide.
Combining MDA’s world leading radar capabilities with DigitalGlobe’s world leading optical capabilities allows us to provide highly advanced digital imagery from space. Radiant Solutions applies sophisticated analytics to this high quality geospatial information to solve complex problems and quickly respond to mission critical questions. Together with SSL’s world leading spacecraft manufacturing capabilities, Maxar Technologies can provide end-to-end systems and expertise including satellites, robotics, ground stations, imagery and analytics for advanced geospatial and communications solutions.
SSL Government Systems is focusing on the US defense, intelligence, and civil markets. What do you see as the key needs of these customers and how does SSL plan to collaborate with the greater Maxar Technologies organization to fill them?
White: We’re seeing strong demand for communications and geospatial intelligence solutions. There is increasing interest in small satellites in LEO orbit and cost-effective ways to leverage commercial capabilities and advances. There is certainly interest in advanced satellites with high-resolution remote sensing capabilities that can deliver faster revisit rates, to provide an action-taker with near-real-time information, and resilience, so that crucial imagery remains available in our nation’s time of need. We’re also hearing our customers discuss the need for assured persistence, or a constant stream of imagery intelligence that is unaffected by nightfall, cloud cover, or weather conditions.
To support this, SSL, in conjunction with the greater Maxar Technologies organization, leverages its proven expertise in small satellites and ISR, to offer even more in the area of assured persistence. We are talking to our customers now about some exciting new possibilities. Whether it’s a mission of national security or a mission to provide support after a natural disaster, our goal is to deliver insights and intelligence that satisfy our customers’ unique mission needs.
SSL has been making significant progress in growing its work with the U.S. government. What are some recent SSL successes?
White: Our mission is to support U.S. government missions with cost-effective and highly reliable commercial technologies and processes. We have made significant progress in this direction, and are currently building three spacecraft and developing advanced space robotics technologies that will be used for U.S. government missions, as well as participating in a number of important studies that are expected to play a key role in national security and to enable future missions.
While billions of people depend on satellites for everyday needs like telecommunications, GPS, and internet, they are the only element of our essential daily infrastructure that cannot be serviced – until now. We’re working with both NASA and DARPA to introduce and accelerate the capability to service satellites while on-orbit. The two programs, called Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) and Restore-L, will enable unprecedented fleet resilience and flexibility while individually providing unique and vital capabilities that are fundamental to future NASA exploration and science architectures and will help preserve American leadership in space.
In addition to the RSGS and Restore-L spacecraft, SSL is building a solar electric propulsion enabled spacecraft for a NASA Discovery Mission called Psyche. Scheduled to launch in the summer of 2022, the spacecraft will travel to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to study a unique metal asteroid believed to be a planetary core. The proven reliability, power, and cost-effectiveness of the SSL 1300 platform is a strong fit for this important mission that might help us understand how the Earth formed.
Complementary to the technologies that we’re developing for on-orbit servicing, SSL is working in a Public-Private Partnership with NASA to enable in-space robotic assembly. The program, called Dragonfly, recently completed a ground demonstration and is advancing on schedule. As the only spacecraft manufacturer with the ability to build on robotics technologies proven on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Mars lander and rovers–SSL is strongly positioned as a leader in the technologies expected to drive the construction of more complex future space infrastructure.
We are also working with U.S. government agencies to define next-generation space technologies through a number of studies. These include helping the U.S. Air Force test the security of hosting payloads on commercial satellites; researching power and propulsion for NASA’s deep space gateway; developing concepts for advanced military satellite communications; and helping to ensure that our nation has a cost-effective and resilient space architecture. The capabilities proven in these studies will play a key role in enabling future missions.
What future technologies and developments can we expect from SSL?
White: SSL is at the forefront of developing innovative solutions for space, and we continue to make advances that provide higher value, greater flexibility and shorter schedules for our customers’ most critical missions. Since our customers value heritage, advances are very carefully and incrementally combined with our proven technologies, however, occasionally we take a leap forward, such as with our advances for on-orbit servicing and assembly that I mentioned earlier, as well as our developments in Earth observation, Ultra High Density Satellite, and solar electric propulsion.
In July, we announced that we’re building a next-generation imaging satellite constellation to DigitalGlobe called WorldView Legion. This highly advanced EO constellation will provide sub-meter accuracy, fast revisit rates, and will more than double DigitalGlobe’s high-resolution capacity in important regions, enabling us to provide our customers with even greater insights into global events of significance.
Another exciting technology that we’re working on is Ultra High Density Satellite, a new communications satellite architecture that aligns bit density with population density to maximize revenue generation for satellite operators. The technology is based on a broad range of advances, including the miniaturization of electronics, solid state amplifiers, and more efficient antenna designs, and will be featured on the EchoStar XXIV satellite that we’re building for Hughes Network Systems.
To address the increased demand for high power, efficient propulsion, we’re using our extensive experience in solar electric propulsion, which includes 30 spacecraft that are operating on orbit today, to think-up new solutions that are expected to drive deep space applications. One example of this is the Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA), which is a modular and scalable solar array system that rolls up to form a compact cylinder for launch, enabling larger and more powerful spacecraft to be launched on today’s launch vehicles. ROSA was recently proven on the International Space Station and is qualified for use on our SSL 1300 spacecraft platform.
What brought you to SSL? How have you developed the SSL Government Systems team?
White: The space industry is currently going through a creative boom that is enabling the realization of many new and exciting technologies that were only dreamed of in Hollywood. Deep space exploration and the Journey to Mars, in-orbit habitats, gateways, and space depots, constellations of hundreds of small satellites, and the construction and maintenance of space infrastructure using robotics-enabled servicing spacecraft–it’s becoming a reality. I leaped at the opportunity to bring my 30+ years of experience in working with the U.S. government to SSL, a company on the leading edge of these new technology developments.
Since I joined last year, SSL Government Systems has grown significantly in both the number of programs that we’ve been awarded, as well as the size of our team. Our group is made up of seasoned, cleared professionals with strong backgrounds in providing solutions for the U.S. government’s most critical defense and intelligence missions. In April, we announced that Robert Zitz joined us as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. Rob has served our nation for more than 30 years, where he made key contributions to national security and intelligence missions and held senior executive leadership positions with the Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and the National Reconnaissance Office. We are absolutely thrilled to have him leading strategy for our team.
Rob is joined by Tim Gillespie, who takes on the role of Vice President of Business Development for National Programs. Tim has spent decades working across the defense and intelligence agencies and departments of the U.S. government, and we are very pleased to have him join our team to lead business development pursuits in the national programs domain.
Our high profile team, in combination with the world-class Maxar Technologies portfolio of space technologies, positions us well for continued growth. We look forward to providing the U.S. government with transformative new technologies that accelerate American progress in space.
Richard White previously worked at Capstone Corporation as a chief executive responsible for information, training, strategy, planning and development of operations solutions and services for the federal government. White joined Capstone from the Harris Corporation, where he spent more than 30 years holding executive leadership positions in areas including space, intelligence, information technology, cybersecurity, cloud computing and healthcare.
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