NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced yesterday that Maxar Technologies had been selected to build the first element of the Lunar Gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). The win for Maxar continues a solid month of May which has seen its stock rise 57%, though it is still down significantly from where it was a year ago.
The rise in stock price indicates that some confidence in the company is returning, including from institutional investors.
The month started with the news that Maxar would receive the full insurance payout for the loss of its WorldView-4 satellite, US$183 million. Then they announced first quarter 2019 results that including better than expected revenue. That was followed by news of a Canadian Department of National Defence contract win for 10 flight-ready Search and Rescue/Global Positioning System repeaters. This was followed by a DARPA contract win, a NASA Future Space Communications Architecture and Services contract, an imaging contract renewal with HERE Technologies and lastly the NASA Lunar Gateway contract. And the month isn’t over. It should be noted that Maxar still has debt issues, but the new contract wins will help out going forward.
Lunar Gateway Double
The Power and Propulsion Element firm-fixed contract could be valued up to US$375 million. Maxar’s SSL division will be the prime contractor with Blue Origin and Draper Labs joining as the first subcontractors. NASA said “the contract begins with a 12-month base period of performance and is followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option and two 12-month options.” After all testing has been completed NASA has the option to buy the Element outright. Until then, Maxar owns it.
Maxar had previously conducted a four-month study for NASA to develop “electric-propulsion-enabled concepts for the power and propulsion element spacecraft.” They were one of of several companies who had conducted earlier studies for NASA. The Power and Propulsion Element is being based on SSL’s proven 1300-class satellite platform which has been used by 91 previous spacecraft.
The news could be event better for Maxar in the future if NASA executes its Artemis program plans. This initial PPE could be just the first of several that eventually get built.
In a statement on the PPE contract NASA stated “the power and propulsion element is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft – three times more powerful than current capabilities. As a mobile command and service module, the Gateway provides a communications relay for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface, starting at the Moon’s South Pole.”
NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate also stated “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. We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”
The Lunar Gateway PPE win isn’t the only contribution Maxar will be making to NASA’s iconic Artemis program. In Canada, MDA is likely going to be the prime contractor for the AI powered robotic system known as Canadarm3 which will also be deployed to the Lunar Gateway.
Other lunar robotic opportunities
There may be other robotics opportunities at the moon however. During Jim Bridenstine’s talk at the Florida Institute of Technology yesterday, he stated Canada might also be contributing robotics for systems on the moon’s surface. That’s something we’ve mentioned before as possibility and it might open up the door for other industry players in Canada to get in on the robotics opportunity.