PARIS — Raytheon has converted a portion of its missile-systems facility into a small-satellite production site and appears sold on the growth potential for quick-production spacecraft that allow the company to validate technologies that would be too risky to launch otherwise.
Smallsats are also a hiring advantage.
“With programs like IRIS-X, a recent college grade can step into a program, help with the design, touch the hardware and launch — all within two or three years,” said Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Raytheon Space Systems.
Most large U.S. space-technology prime contractors have a hand in the smallsat sector, whether under contract for U.S. Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) or others, or through venture funds.
In addition to its own contracts on U.S. Defense Department programs, Raytheon has become a large equity owner of Hawkeye 360, an Allied Minds-created startup that is building a constellation of satellites for radio-frequency detection. The investment means Raytheon has to be considered as a likely future owner of Hawkeye 360.
The same is true for Raytheon, which explains the company’s presence at the Cubesat Developers Workshop organized by Cal Poly April 23-25.
Laughrey’s IRIS-X reference was to the Infrared Imaging Space Experiment satellite. It is not a cubesat but was built for $30 million in 29 months from design to build. It was launched into geostationary orbit in April 2018 as a secondary payload aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
With a new design of focal plane array and large-diameter primary mirror, IRIS-X “is the largest optic every flown at GEO” orbit, Laughrey said. Its mission for the U.S. Air Force is to use demonstrate that “persistent” imaging of a given geography can yield operationally interesting data even at a much lower ground sampling distance than lower-orbit optical reconnaissance spacecraft.
Mor recently, Raytheon assembled the two-satellite ORS-7 Polar Scout satellites to be used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assist emergency-rescue crews in locating the source of beacons in remote areas including the Arctic. The U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space office was the contracting agency.
Millenium Engineering and Integration, Rincon Research Corp. and Space Dynamics Laboratory worked with Raython assembled at the Raytheon Tucson, Arizona, facility.
Raytheon is one of several companies under design contract for DARPA’s Blackjack program to look at future low-orbit constellations that could augment or even replace much larger military telecommunications satellites.
Airbus Defence and Space, Trident Systems, Blue Canyon, Telesat and others are also working on Blackjack payload designs.
“Under Blackjack, Raytheon is developing a payload that aims to demonstrate the critical elements for a global high-speed network in low Earth orbit,” Laughrey said. “The Blackjack constellation emphasizes low-cost payloads with short design cycles and frequent technologies upgrades.”
DARPA has said its goal is less than $6 million per satellite including its design, manufacture and launch.
“With cubesats, smallsats and at the like, we are launching things to prove out the TRL [Technology Readiness Level] and demonstrate that they can survive in space — electronic components, large-format focal planes and other subsystems,” Laughrey said. “These programs would never have been contemplated 10 years ago — too much risk and too difficult to launch.”