Sixty years ago, the United States found itself in a heated space race with the USSR, vying to get astronauts to space walk and to land on the moon. Now, there’s a new space race, but it’s more about competition between tech companies and the personalities behind them. Amazon head Jeff Bezos is shifting his focus to Blue Origin, his rocket company, and Elon Musk continues to fine-tune his own rocket and space travel company, SpaceX.
But these aren’t the only companies looking to get their technology past the stratosphere—major corporations like missile defense company Raytheon are vying for a role in the field.
Tucson-based Raytheon is now touting its effort to shoot its own mini-satellites into space after delivering one to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The mini-satellite, known as SeeMe (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements) represents the missile company’s ever-expanding role in the realm of defense technology.
And speaking of SpaceX, DARPA will be loading up Raytheon’s SeeMe satellite onto a payload that will hitch a ride on a SpaceX rocket by the end of this month. The satellite’s main purpose is to cut down on production costs, since they’re so small, and help ground troops with tactical imagery in a timely manner.
The push for Raytheon to advance its mini-satellite tech comes at a time when the demand for higher resolution imagery from space is growing. In the near future, military units will be able to access imagery beamed down from space onto handheld devices. This will literally come in handy when troops can’t access larger military satellites and need real-time imagery.
Raytheon plans to utilize its automated missile production line to quickly and affordably manufacture its mini-satellites, and produce them in high numbers. The company announced earlier in the year that it had already made two small satellites for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to aid search-and-rescue teams by locating emergency beacons in remote parts of the world.
This news comes on the heels of another Tucson-based tech company touting its own push to shoot tiny satellites into space. Vector, a startup-like space tech company in southern Arizona, just netted $70 million in B round funding and is set to launch its first payload into space in early 2019.
The market for mini satellites is skyrocketing, for lack of a better term, and companies like Vector and Raytheon are elbowing their way to the forefront. With smaller launch systems in mini satellites, the cost of going into orbit plummets, making it more cost effective overall. Vector is planning to ramp up production and provide hundreds of tiny satellites after gaining capital. It’s already nabbed grants from the Department of Defense and NASA, and is nearing $100 million in funding with the recent push by Kodem Growth Partners.
“Vector is entering an extremely important phase of our journey, transitioning from a focus on research and development to flight operations and profitability. This Series B financing is a critical element in Vector’s mission to improve access to space and become a dominant launch provider to the small satellite industry,” said CEO and co-founder Jim Cantrell in a statement.
Vector has already tested its satellites with sub-orbital proving flights and will launch its first orbital flight in December. The goal, after a successful launch, is to expand its reach in Silicon Valley as well as its employee base, including opportunities in sales and marketing. Vector is looking to build a new rocket manufacturing facility in Tucson with a chunk of the new funds.