Today, we see a marriage of old space with new space. Terran Orbital Corporation (NYSE: LLAP), a small satellite producer that relies on 3D printing, among other manufacturing technologies, to produce cubesats and satellite constellations for defense and intelligence applications, is receiving a $100,000,000 investment from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. Publicly traded Terran will give Lockheed convertibles and warrants in return.
$100 Million for New Space Manufacturing
The companies will also sign a Strategic Cooperation Agreement (SCA) that will run through to 2035 that will deepen their cooperation. It is meant to help Terran achieve its commitments sooner and in better order. The two firms will work together for commercial, government and defense programs. The company will also invest in new production facilities and manufacturing technologies as it expands its facilities in Irvine, California.
“In today’s market, customers want the industry to determine the leaders that will deliver timely, quality, and affordable solutions across a variety of missions. This is a continued expansion of our collaboration with Lockheed Martin, and complements and accelerates the decision Terran Orbital made amid the lingering supply chain crisis to continue to vertically integrate products and components to facilitate full in-house satellite and manufacturing production. We see the opportunity to dramatically ramp up our capabilities and external product offerings, which we believe will move Terran Orbital toward profitability,” said Terran CEO Marc Bell.
Terran itself lost $32 million in Q3 on $21 million in revenue, burning through $14 million in cash. So, the path to profitability will have to be a steep one. However, the company reported an order backlog of $224 million and significantly higher revenues year on year so far.
New Space Technologies
The money will be used to grow Terran’s product offerings in defense, in particular, with Terran aiming to expand into “Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Electro-optical, Hyperspectral, Infrared, and Secure Communication” payloads, as well as the following assemblies and components: ¨Star Trackers, Flight Computers, Reaction Wheels, Battery Solutions, and Guidance, Navigation, and Control solutions.¨ Terran additional hopes to run mission operations for partners.
¨The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the need for advanced satellite imagery. Terran Orbital intends to address such demand through a specialized SAR satellite product line based on the company’s PredaSAR satellites. Terran Orbital plans to no longer pursue its own constellation and believes that offering PredaSAR as a product is a financially efficient and expeditious method of getting SAR technology into the hands of those protecting and defending our Nation and Allies,” Terran noted.
Many years in the making, synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a cutting edge technology whereby multiple scans are performed to generate a composite image that is much higher resolution than a single antenna package could normally provide. The process is akin to taking many photos with one camera and then overlaying and piecing them together to create a composite rather relying on just an individual photograph to capture everything in one pass. For users, the result is also similar to having a 3D scan of a planet, rather than a 2D picture.
Based on information from satellites both over time and simultaneously, SAR can take in images from different moments and radars to produce an all-encompassing composite of a place or object. SAR can also penetrate cloud cover to provide more up-to-date data than possible with optics alone. The technology is particularly valuable for studying whole systems, such as the Amazon or urban centers across all of Asia. The U.S. has been actively pursuing a role in leading SAR for decades and is now allowing U.S. firms to commercialize it further.
3D Printing Satellite Components
Terran Orbital regularly 3D prints elements of spacecraft, but a salient detail is that waveguides in general and synthetic aperture waveguides in particular have been 3D printed. We’ve written before about polymer and metal SAR waveguides. Swissto12 and Optisys are showcasing that there are significant opportunities in 3D printing waveguides, given their importance in satellite communications.
With a strong presence in small satellites, Terran stands to profit from growing small satellite capabilities due to miniaturization, better software, and better electronics. The company’s expansion into the component space could also be a very lucrative business in and of itself. In catering to the New Space business, which has seen strong investments and many growing startups could buoy their revenues. Many firms have to design all pieces from scratch. Some players are diversifying into making all manner of parts that could be bought in order to speed up other firms’ development times. In what is, for now, a cash-rich and time-poor market, this may seem like a good play for Terran.
At the same time we’re seeing a critical opportunity emerge for 3D printing in the New Space race. Terran could earn much more if it just managed to make more components and more satellites on time. If 3D printing could speed this process up in any way, shape, or form, the additive manufacturing would be sure to find a very grateful client in Terran and its peers. Sometimes in a gold rush, sell picks and shovels.