Maxar is sure that all 6 of the next-generation imaging satellites of the WorldView Legion will be launched in 2022. At the 2021 GEOINT Symposium, Tony Frazier, Maxar’s executive vice president of worldwide field operations, told SpaceNews, “We anticipate all six being on-orbit next year.”
Frazier said he couldn’t give exact launch dates for the very first batch of 2 satellites and the second group of 4 satellites, both of which would be launched on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Until recently, the business had forecasted that these releases will take place in 2021. During earnings call in August, Maxar Chief Executive Officer Dan Jablonsky informed investors that the first launch will be delayed until 2022.
“We’re still on track,” Frazier said of the strategy. He said that putting together the $600 million constellations was difficult. Frazier added, “It’s a complicated program.” The satellites are being manufactured by Space Systems Loral, which is a Maxar-owned company. The legacy WorldView imaging satellites from DigitalGlobe (now Maxar) were built one at a time. “It’s not easy” to scale up to six, according to Frazier.
One factor contributing to the delays, he noted, is the difficulty of constructing six sophisticated spacecraft at the same time. There have been problems due to vendors delivering crucial components late. The schedule was also thrown off by COVID-19.
Because Legion satellites are generally smaller than previous generations, miniaturizing electronics while preserving high-resolution optical performance and keeping costs low “was not a minor challenge,” he added. “All of those variables, I believe, added to the complexity of a pandemic.”
The company’s survival depends on the performance of WorldView Legion, which aims to maintain its dominance of the US government imagery market while also expanding its commercial business. Maxar is going to be able to gather imagery of various locations on Earth more often with the addition of six more satellites to its existing four. “We’ll be able to maintain customer expectations for 30-centimeter resolution imaging, but we’ll be able to greatly increase our constellation’s revisit rate,” Frazier added.
The latest WorldView satellites are in a sun-synchronous orbit, which allows them to map. Two of the six Legion spacecraft will be in a sun-synchronous orbit, while the other four will be in a mid-inclination orbit. He explained, “This allows us to see specific high-interest locations more frequently.”
“We were able to see specific regions once or twice a day” when US soldiers left Afghanistan, Frazier added. “We’ll be capable to see those identical regions more than 15 times a day using Legion.”