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Big Plans for Terran Orbital’s Small Satellites

The Irvine operations of Terran Orbital Corp. recently provided six small satellites for a pioneering mission into space, in the latest sign of growth for the local aerospace company, and another example of Orange County’s growing role in space-related work.

The satellites blasted off on May 25 aboard Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as part of what was called the Transporter-5 mission. In total, 59 payloads were taken into space (see story, this page).

All six satellites from Terran were deployed into low Earth orbit. Terran says its satellites typically operate at around 450 kilometers (280 miles) to 650 kilometers in altitude.

“Pretty much all of the work was done in Irvine,” said Terran Chief Technology Officer Austin Williams. Williams emphasized that some of the components for the satellites were made by Terran’s subsidiary in Turin, Italy.

Terran (NYSE: LLAP), which has its headquarters in Florida, says its single brand name now covers all of the company’s units, including the former Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. in Irvine.

Terran significantly added to its local operations over the past year to meet the growing demand for small satellites, both in terms of headcount and office and manufacturing space.

Its manufacturing and office space now totals over 250,000 square feet, while its headcount is more than 330, with much of that in OC.

March SPAC

Terran went public via a reverse merger with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, or SPAC, in March, in a deal that initially valued the company around $1.6 billion, and provided it with nearly $500 million in new funds.

Its shares, trading at about $10 at the time the reverse merger was announced, have fallen by more than 40% the last few months amid the general market slump and a lukewarm reception of late for SPACs.

The company’s valuation stood around $792 million as of last week.

Terran last month reported about $13.1 million in revenue for the latest quarter, up from $10.5 million from the year-ago period. It reported a net loss of $71 million for the latest quarter.

Last quarter saw the company ink $162 million of new contracts. It counted a record backlog of $222 million as of March 31, 2022, up 200% from the end of 2021, it said.

Global Connectivity

The Terran Orbital satellites launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida include three for NASA demonstrations, one for a company called Fleet Space of Australia, and two for the GeoOptics firm of Pasadena.

The Fleet Space spacecraft is part of a constellation commissioned by the company to deliver global connectivity specifically designed for the energy, exploration, and resource industries.

The GeoOptics vehicles 1 and 2 are the first phase of a next-generation satellite constellation to form a unified Earth observatory allowing governments, industry, and individual stakeholders to monitor and prepare for the many impacts of climate change.
The spacecraft for NASA were “designed, built, integrated, tested here,” according to Williams, who is based in Irvine. “Integrated” refers to the process of combining the mechanical and electrical elements into a single entity.

He said “in Irvine we designed and built the piece parts” for the Fleet Space and GeoOptics vehicles.

Three of the satellites were put together in Irvine and for the other three “the components were built here” and assembled in Italy by a Terran subsidiary, Williams told the Business Journal on May 26.

“All of the technology was developed here in Irvine,” according to Williams. The six satellites represent “the most that we’ve had on one launch.”

Parent company Terran has a firm and growing presence in Irvine.

Last year, it leased four floors of space in the 400 Spectrum Center tower, the largest office lease for an area office tower announced since the onset of the pandemic.

Terran expects to grow to between 400 and 500 employees working there, on engineering, design and development work for small satellites.

Terran Challenge

“What’s unique in this launch is the variety of customers and missions that are being served,” Williams said.

He added: “Showing that you can very quickly develop spacecraft that are doing a variety of missions for both government and commercial customers—design, develop and integrate those quickly and get them on a rocket is a unique challenge that sets Terran Orbital apart.”

Terran co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Marc Bell said the company looks forward to continue partnering with NASA, GeoOptics and the others on future satellite missions.

Terran had previously announced a significant expansion in manufacturing capabilities, as well as contract awards from Lockheed Martin, the Space Development Agency, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Tyvak, the Irvine-based unit, said in March it aims to deliver more than 1,000 satellites per year as prices come down and both defense and commercial uses grow.

Earlier this year, Tyvak said it was awarded a contract to build 42 satellites for the Pentagon to support “global warfighter missions” with a vast communications and surveillance network in outer space.

Iceye’s Irvine Work Expanding

Satellite maker Iceye, whose “persistent monitoring” technology can be used for a variety of government and commercial uses, said it successfully launched five new satellites on SpaceX’s late-May Falcon 9 smallsat rideshare mission that also included offerings from Terran Orbital Corp.

Helsinki-based Iceye and its Irvine-based Iceye US division have now deployed 21 satellites since 2018, including both commercial and dedicated customer missions.

The company’s satellite constellation “is designed to provide customers with reliable and frequent imagery enabling the rapid detection and tracking of changes on the Earth’s surface, regardless of time of day, or weather conditions,” according to the company.

This capability is “vital for government and commercial uses in various sectors, including insurance, natural catastrophe response and recovery, national security, defense, humanitarian relief and climate change monitoring.”

The May 25 launch included the second and third satellites built, licensed and operated by Iceye US, which established a satellite manufacturing facility early last year at its headquarters in Irvine.

The newly launched satellites are licensed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will be “operated and controlled exclusively from the company’s 24/7 Mission Operations Center in Irvine,” the company said.

“Expanding our fleet of U.S.- built satellites is a critical step that expands our capability to support our customers across the U.S. Government,” says Jerry Welsh, CEO of Iceye US.
“We are seeing a shift in the U.S. and international government sector that is now looking to fully leverage and integrate commercial remote sensing technologies into their collection architectures.”

Iceye earlier this year raised $136 million in a Series D round.

—Mark Mueller

Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal
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