Loft Federal to provide 10 Airbus OneWeb satellite platforms for Ball Aerospace contract to US Space Development Agency

by Peter B. de Selding

Loft Orbital has ordered more than 30 OneWeb-based satellite platforms from Airbus Defence and Space. The modifications to the OneWeb design can be major, resulting in a spacecraft with a launch mass of 300-500 kilograms, compared to 150 kg for OneWeb. Ten of the 15 satellites for Loft’s most recent order from Airbus will be used for the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA) as part of a Ball Aerospace contract. Credit: Airbus

PARIS — Airbus U.S. Space and Defense is becoming one of the larger satellite platform providers for the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA)’s large, multi-payload network in low Earth orbit with a new 10-satellite order from Loft Orbital’s Loft Federal U.S. subsidiary.

Loft Federal has partnered with Ball Aerospace to provide SDA with 10 satellites as part of the SDA’s NExT — National Defense Space Architecture Experimental Testbed — program. Ball hired Loft Federal, which was created in February to win just this sort of government customer, to provide the satellite platforms and the payload interface for the missions. Loft said it will receive a majority of the $176-million contract announced by Ball and SDA.

Ball Aerospace will procure the ride-share launches for the 10 satellites as well as ground control and operations. Loft will perform satellite integration and test and will operate the satellites using Loft’s Cockpit satellite mission software.

The Loft order follows an October 2022 award from Northrop Grumman to Airbus U.S. Space and Defense for 42 satellites that Northrop is contracted to provide for SDA’s Tranche 1 Transport Layer constellation. The contract is valued at $692 million.

Airbus and Loft Orbital announced earlier this year a contract under which Airbus would provide 15 satellites based on the Airbus OneWeb Satellites design, but modified to offer different payloads. It was the second 15-satellite order from Loft using the Airbus OneWeb design. The first was announced in January 2022. All 30 satellites will use Loft’s Longbow design.

On April 11, Loft and Ball Aerospace announced that 10 of satellites in the latest 15-satellite Loft order would be for the SDA.

A Microsoft Azure Orbital Ground Station in Sweden. Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft’s Azure Space will provide an Azure Orbital Ground Station and what Microsoft called “Azure Government air-gapped clouds, which will allow SDA to do their mission work in a secure cloud environment… [to] securely operate a government-owned satellite constellation with Azure Orbital Ground Station’s global network for the first time.”

“Ball Aerospace is leveraging our strong relationships with Loft Federal and Microsoft, which will enable us to streamline our assembly and integration process and move quickly to deliver capabilities to SDA,” Ball Aerospace President Dave Kaufman said in a statement. He said the team’s strength is “a supplier-agnostic rapid delivery pipeline that enables mission success.”

The modifications to the Airbus OneWeb platform can bring the satellites’ mass from 150 kilograms used for OneWeb to between 300 and 500 kilograms depending on mission requirements, such as high stability required for optical observation, Loft said.

Airbus OneWeb Satellites is a Florida-based joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb.

OneWeb’s first-generation constellation is now completed, giving Airbus OneWeb Satellites ever incentive to go after new business.

“Leveraging Loft Orbital’s COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] products allows us to provide SDA with a fast and proven path to orbit in line with the the commercial market’s expectations,” Loft Federal General Manager John Eterno said in an April 11 statement.

Loft Orbital’s Cockpit satellite operations mission management program. Credit: Loft

Based in Colorado and Toulouse, France, Loft Orbital’s “infrastructure as a service” business model puts Loft in the position to select from among available satellite platform providers, depending on the mission of a given Loft customer. Loft then usually handles the rest, including payload integration, insurance and launch.

The company has raised some $156 million and has purchased platforms from LeoStella LLC in addition to Airbus:

LeoStella is a joint venture between satellite builder Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy and U.S.-based BlackSky, which operates a constellation of optical imaging satellites.

Loft has just two satellites in orbit, Yam 3 and Yam 5, which between them have 10 active customers. Paris-based Eutelsat is one of these, with a payload testing a possible future constellation of narrowband Internet of Things satellites, called ELO.

Loft is also under contract with EarthDaily Analytics of Canada for 10 Longbow satellites to launch in 2024 to provide images of the entire Earth every day.

In an April 11 statement, Loft said it has 25 manifested satellites to launch by the end of 2025, including EarthDaily. The company’s mission profile is changing, from one in which it places different customer payloads onto a single Loft-adapted platform, to one in which it provides satellites for commercial and government constellations.

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