Vector says Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat design, which Lockheed expects to test in orbit this year with self-funded prototypes, infringes on three Vector patents. Credit: Lockheed Martin

PARIS — Startup small-launcher provider Vector filed a patent-infringement suit against Lockheed Martin, alleging that Lockheed’s just-announced SmartSat software-defined-satellite design uses Vector-patented technologies.

The lawsuit, filed April 5 in California’s Central District Court, alleges that Lockheed Martin has taken elements from three Vector patents filed between 2017 and 2019 and applied them to SmartSat.

The suit came just 16 days after Lockheed’s March 20 announcement of a new satellite architecture, called SmartSat, that was being integrated onto 10 satellites, including two LM 50 Lockheed cubesat platforms to be launched this year. Both have been financed internally at Lockheed Martin and are being launched as prototypes to test SmartSat applications.

Known as a pure-play small-satellite launch provider, Vector in 2016 announced the formation of a new division, called GalacticSky, that would a new operating system centered on software-defined radios. The new GalacticSky team came from VMWare and Citrix.

GalacticSky then went into “stealth” mode before emerging in the wake of the disclosure of Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat.

Vector’s GSky-1 satellite, scheduled for launch this year, will test GalacticSky technologies. Credit: Vector

Two days after the Lockheed announcement, Vector said its first GalactiSky model, GSky-1, had completed integration at the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center and would be launched this year.

GSky-1 will prove out GalacticSky functions and also carry three technology payloads for NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The basic premise of software-defined satellites, which are in development by many satellite operators and associated research centers, is to render satellites more flexible by allowing owners to change their missions over the satellites’ operational lives.

The comparison most often used is that of a smartphone app that is added to users’ hardware. For prospective satellite developers, it opens the possibility of their becoming app designers using third-party-owned satellites to deploy their products to customers.

Vector first announced its GalacticSky software-defined-satellite product in 2016. Credit: Vector

Vector said its lawsuit was the “culmination of a sequence of events that started on March 20,” with the Lockheed announcement. “After exhausting all non-legal remedies, Vector saw no other path.

In its lawsuit, Vector said it met with Lockheed in late 2018 on the issue, apparently with no result. Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the lawsuit, and as of early April 8 had not made a filing in the California court.

Vector is asking the California court to issue an injunction against Lockheed’s further use of those aspects of SmartSky that use Vector-patented technology.It is asking the court to award triple the amount of that damages, including royalties and lost profit, that Vector is found to have suffered.