Maxar Teams with Blue Origin, Draper on Lunar Gateway Power & Propulsion Element

The power and propulsion element of NASA’s Gateway is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft – three times more powerful than current capabilities. (Credits: NASA)

Maxar partners with Blue Origin and Draper to design, build and demonstrate operations of a spacecraft that could support returning humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (Maxar Technologies PR)– Maxar Technologies (NYSE:MAXR) (TSX:MAXR), a global technology innovator powering the new space economy, today announced it has been selected by NASA to build and perform a spaceflight demonstration of the lunar Gateway’s power and propulsion element spacecraft. Blue Origin and Draper will join the Maxar-led team in designing, building and operating the spacecraft through the demonstration period. The power and propulsion element is a key component to NASA’s overall plans to land American astronauts on the surface of the Moon by 2024, and will be the first segment of the Gateway tested in space.

Maxar previously conducted a four-month study to develop affordable and innovative electric-propulsion-enabled concepts for the power and propulsion element spacecraft. Building on the successful completion of the study, Maxar has been selected to proceed with development. The power and propulsion element will provide power, maneuvering, attitude control, communications systems and initial docking capabilities. Maxar is currently targeting launch of the element on a commercial rocket by late 2022.

“Maxar Space Solutions is proud to play a critical role in enabling American astronauts to build a sustainable presence on the Moon. Our power and propulsion element partnership enables NASA to leverage Maxar’s commercial capabilities to cost-effectively expedite plans for sustainable exploration of the Moon, while also providing significant benefits to American industry,” said Dan Jablonsky, Maxar CEO. “As a valuable part of Maxar, our Space Solutions group serves the global commercial and U.S. government satellite market.”

This firm-fixed price award includes an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity portion and carries a maximum total value of $375 million. Following a successful demonstration period of up to one-year, NASA could acquire the spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway.

“The Gateway will give us a strategic presence on and around the Moon. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the entire lunar surface and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”

Maxar’s power and propulsion element design is based on our powerful 1300-class platform, which provides flexibility for a broad range of applications and technological advances. There are 91 spacecraft based on the 1300 currently on orbit for commercial operators – more than any other model of communications satellite. Maxar’s 1300-class spacecraft platform is also the basis for NASA’s Psyche mission, which will explore an all-metal asteroid beyond Mars in 2026, and NASA’s Restore-L spacecraft, which will refuel the Landsat-7 satellite in 2022.

High-power solar electric propulsion will be used to efficiently maneuver the power and propulsion element into its orbit and subsequently move the Gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize NASA’s science and exploration operations. Maxar’s extensive experience with solar electric propulsion includes 36 spacecraft on-orbit today and more than 100,000 hours of firing time.

A key element of Maxar’s power and propulsion element design is the Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA). ROSA is a groundbreaking, compact, modular and scalable solar array system that rolls up for launch instead of folding like an accordion. ROSA is a highly mass-efficient, qualified technology that can be scaled up to 200kW and above for high-power operations. ROSA was successfully tested on the International Space Station in 2017 and is available for use on all of Maxar’s spacecraft platforms.

The operations of DigitalGlobe, SSL (Space Systems Loral) and Radiant Solutions were unified under the Maxar brand in February; MDA continues to operate as an independent business unit within the Maxar organization.

About Maxar Technologies

As a global leader of advanced space technology solutions, Maxar is at the nexus of the new space economy, developing and sustaining the infrastructure and delivering the information, services, and systems that unlock the promise of space for commercial and government markets. The operations of DigitalGlobe, SSL (Space Systems Loral) and Radiant Solutions were unified under the Maxar brand in February; MDA continues to operate as an independent business unit within the Maxar organization. As a trusted partner with 5,900 employees in over 30 global locations, Maxar provides vertically integrated capabilities and expertise including satellites, Earth imagery, robotics, geospatial data and analytics to help customers anticipate and address their most complex mission-critical challenges with confidence. Every day, billions of people rely on Maxar to communicate, share information and data, and deliver insights that Build a Better World. Maxar trades on the New York Stock Exchange and Toronto Stock Exchange as MAXR. For more information, visit www.maxar.com.

  • Francesco Barato

    So what Blue Origin is doing here? Does anybody know?

  • Robert G. Oler

    my question exactly

  • savuporo

    Maxars market cap is “only” about 500M. Bezos has said he sinks about twice that into BO annually

    There’s an easy way to acquire decades of spacecraft building expertise here ..

  • TheBrett

    It sounds like they do good work with SEP station-keeping, and will do it for the Gateway module. Good to read.

  • Robert G. Oler

    this is an interesting piece of kit

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Not really interesting. It appears to be the Maxar SSL 1300 comsat bus minus the usual transponder arrays with more ion propulsion.

    If I didn’t know any better. This contract defers the contraction of SSL within Maxar due to the dearth of new GSO comsats orders. Smells like corporate welfare to keep SSL in the game.

  • duheagle

    Can’t say I know, but I’m guessing Blue is there to provide the ride upstairs in a roomy, 7-meter diameter payload fairing. The extra elbow room available on New Glenn might influence the design of the payload to rely less on origami-like subsystems. Blue’s NG payload mount could also do worse than to be developed and checked out cheek-by-jowl with something based on the most numerously deployed GEO comsat bus.

  • duheagle

    True. And by Bezos standards, this would be a “couch cushion money” acquisition – only about twice what he paid for the WaPo.

  • duheagle

    Never say never, I suppose, but there are other considerations that would seem likelier to have been the clinchers.

    First, the SSL 1300 bus and its thruster tech have a lot of flight history which makes this a very low-risk play. Unlike, say, comsat competitor Boeing, Maxar/SSL haven’t had a couple of their birds blow up recently.

    Second, it also doesn’t hurt that anything based on a comsat bus can be built quickly enough to easily fit into even the new Artemis deployment schedule. Comsats are built to commercial, not SLS-ish schedules.

    Third, given that Maxar/SSL have already built a lot of 1300’s, the fixed price bid was a no-brainer on both sides. And there will be no cost-plus and delay BS required between contract signing and delivery.

    The fact that the contract helps Maxar get through a dip in commercial demand is way down the list of justifications if it’s even on the list at all.

    Sometimes a contract award is just the right thing to do.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And don’t forget about the comsat constellation Blue Origin wants to do.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I find it interesting because it is a clever adaption of “things that work already” into a slightly modified effort which probably can be done semi on time and on budget….and if it is successful it has a LOT of commercial payload potential..including going to the ISS.

  • duheagle

    Haven’t forgotten that but I don’t really see any connection to that here. The SSL 1300 bus-based comsats are big GEO birds. Amazon’s notional Kuiper project would be using birds more like those of OneWeb and Starlink in terms of mass and size. Amazon could, perhaps, hire Maxar as its prime contractor for Kuiper fleet birds, but, as savuporo noted above, Bezos might fancy a purchase rather than a hire deal. Or he might do either a hire or acquisition deal anent some other sat maker with more experience at the smallsat end of the sat spectrum. Sierra Nevada and Surrey are two such firms that would figure prominently on any list of suitable candidates.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Surrey is a foreign firm and that would create ITAR problems. I also don’t see Sierra Nevada being a good fit. Where the expertise that would come in is the creation of the position keeping thrusters for the small sats Blue Origin needs.

  • P.K. Sink

    This is really exciting. A habitat-capable solar electric propulsion system that can change orbits is the genesis of true spaceships. Let the future begin.

  • publiusr

    I want the huge solar tugs with acres of solar panels on trusses, like the 1970’s art showed in T.A. Hep’s book.

  • duheagle

    Not all ITAR problems are unsolvable. Surrey is a British firm so I’m guessing some suitable accommodation would be possible to make. In extremis, Bezos could just pay to have Surrey keep some American ITAR compliance people with U.S. security clearances on-premises.

    For thruster tech, Blue could do its own, as SpaceX has done, or it could buy from any of quite a number of potential suppliers. It seems like Doug has been running press releases from new thruster companies at least once a month for some time.