• Tue. Apr 20th, 2021

Cubesat developers deserve recognition for their contribution to the Smallsat sector, says Maxar


Feb 24, 2021

Advances in technology in the small satellite sector have improved spacecraft models. It has pushed the space industry to take more risks. Maxar Technologies‘ Jim McClelland revealed this during the 2021 SmallSat Symposium, which brings together small sat businesses worldwide.

McClelland is the vice president of mission architecture at Maxar. “It’s been a very exciting transformation of the industry. I have to actually, oddly enough, give a lot of credit to the Cubesat guys,” he said. According to McClelland, startups and research institutions have accomplished several things despite having limited funds. “They only had a million dollars, and they started launching, and lo and behold, they didn’t burn up and died immediately. They were actually able to accomplish things,” added McClelland.

McClelland has worked for Maxar previously in the DigitalGlobe subsidiary. He left DigitalGlobe to work with Airbus, an aerospace manufacturer. He later ditched Airbus for OneWeb Satellites and later moved to Skybox Imaging, a Planet Labs subsidiary.

In August 2020, McClelland returned to Maxar as the vice president of mission architecture. The company re-hired him to spearhead its space business across the commercial, civil, and national security markets. Maxar’s key sectors are space infrastructure and interstellar geospatial intelligence.

“Certainly, one of my reasons for returning to Maxar was to bring more of that disruptive perspective to the smallsat side of what we’re trying to do. One of the things that are really kind of fun to watch is that the ecosystem of all the suppliers is really starting to get some momentum and be fed by the fact that there are all of these different activities going on, and all this interest,” said McClelland.

“The industry is benefitting from clever designs and cutting edge technologies in new ways that we hadn’t seen in the past because everything was so fueled in the prior decades by very risky, averse postures,” he added.

Maxar’s CEO, Daniel Jablonsky, recently stated his company plans to expand its relationship with the government through improved commercial products and services at fixed prices. He also said the government should allow commercial companies to bid for work instead of awarding contracts without competition. “Department of Defense (DoD) should communicate to the industry the problems it needs solved and allow companies to bid solutions, rather than pay contractors to develop custom products,” said Jablonsky.

If the government asks a contractor to build something on spec over a long period of time, the incentive is to make the project last longer, which adds cost. If you pay on a time and materials basis, then you’ll get more time and usually more materials,” he added.

Commercial companies will bring their best innovation to the table through competition, which is a win for the government. “We want to do it on a firm fixed price, and here’s the schedule. Everybody compete, and that’s a great place for a technology and innovative company to be,” added Jablonsky.  Even as companies seek to provide products and services to the government, they have to balance the risks against the demands for them to generate profits.

“It’s very expensive to get to space, to operate in space. But it’s doable, and commercial companies are pushing the edge really fast these days,” Jablonsky added. Maxar is developing six new satellites, advanced artificial intelligence algorithms, and 3D designs. The company seeks to improve its services, currently serving about 400,000 users in the DoD and the intelligence community.