Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella will oversee the assembly of the first three satellites for a constellation that’s designed to keep track of space traffic.
LeoStella’s new project is part of a bigger contract between Canada’s NorthStar Earth and Space on one hand, and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space on the other.
NorthStar says its Skylark satellite constellation will be part of the world’s first commercial space-based environmental and near-space monitoring system. The satellites will be tasked with monitoring thousands of natural and human-made objects in low Earth orbit, and sounding an alert if a collision risk is detected.
That sort of space situational awareness is expected to become more important as thousands more satellites — including spacecraft for the SpaceX Starlink, OneWeb and Amazon Kuiper broadband data networks — are launched in the years ahead.
“We are here to make space safe for doing business, now and into the future,” Stewart Bain, NorthStar’s CEO and co-founder, said in a news release.
The contract for the first three Skylark satellites draws upon complex corporate connections: Thales Alenia Space is one of the world’s largest satellite manufacturers. LeoStella is a joint venture between Thales Alenia Space and BlackSky, a satellite and geospatial intelligence company that has offices in Seattle and Virginia. And as if that’s not complex enough, Thales Alenia Space owns a stake in NorthStar by virtue of its partnership with Telespazio in a joint venture called the Space Alliance.
Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for providing the satellite payloads, while LeoStella will provide its LEO-100 satellite platform and oversee the assembly, integration and testing of the satellites at its Tukwila factory. Financial terms were not disclosed.
NorthStar plans to start operating Skylark in 2022, and will add dual-mission satellites for Earth observation plus space situational awareness in 2024..
LeoStella was created in 2018 to build Earth observation satellites for BlackSky’s constellation. Since then, it’s taken on satellite construction contracts for Cloud Constellation Corp. and Loft Orbital. The venture currently has 45 employees.