Who is Terran Orbital?
It is “a leading innovator and provider of end-to-end nanosatellite and microsatellite services and solutions for government agencies and commercial enterprises, “ according to the company’s August 6, 2018 press release. You can’t find even that brief description on the company website, a level of brevity unmatched in a market full of “stealth” start-ups, and certainly for a business that has raised around$46 million in investment funding from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Beach Point Capital Management, and Goldman Sachs.
Details about the number of customers, number of satellites built and launched, a breakdown of government verses commercial customers and other basic statistics one might want to know about the company are difficult to come by.
“We’ve produced a bunch [of satellites],” said Marc Bell, co-founder and Chairman of Terran Orbital. “A lot. There are not a lot of companies building nanosatellites in the U.S. We build up to 140 kilograms [in weight], the majority are 10 kilograms. We’ve been doing it for six and a half years. We’re ahead of everyone.”
Why no details about what Terran Orbital does?
“Our work speaks for itself,” Bell continued. “Customers know what we do. We’ll get a little more transparent as to what we do, but we’ll be very cautious, very careful. We’re always under promising, overdelivering, delivering very well for our customers. We’ll never talk about customer work until the customer talks about it.”
Founded in 2013 with its headquarters in Irvine, California, Terran Orbital had worked on around 80 projects by 2017, according to comments made by CEO Anthony Previte in a Satellite Today piece, with the majority of its customers in the defense and intelligence sectors – one explanation for the company’s tight-lipped policies. The national security community doesn’t like a lot of flash from its vendors, so Terran Orbital’s low-profile is an asset.
Terran Orbital customers in the public eye include several commercial and research weather satellite projects – GeoOptics CICERO GPS occultation satellite and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Raincube mission — a NASA Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator mission contract, and a teaming arrangement to build ImageSat Runner earth observation satellites.
In addition to publicly announced projects, Terran Orbital also has a good chunk of venture capital from Lockheed Martin along with the teaming arrangement for Lockheed Martin’s LM 50 series of satellites to support its claims of being ahead of everyone else in the small satellite market. Lockheed Martin wouldn’t be pumping a lot of money into Terran without conducting due diligence and seeing results.
Some of the enigma is also in Bell’s background. He isn’t a card-carrying member of the old boys aerospace club. I met Bell very briefly in the late ‘90s when he was founder and CEO at Globix, a New York City-based Internet service provider. After cashing out at the peak of the dot.com era, he started Marc Bell Capital in Florida, investing in restaurants and nightclubs. Later, he co-founded ARMOUR Residential REIT and Javelin Mortgage Investment Company. With side gigs producing Broadway plays including Jersey Boys and ownership of Penthouse Media Group, Bell fits the definition of a polymath.
While Bell’s background is a little non-conformist compared to the rest of the old guard aerospace community, his presence fits well with other New Space names such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Robert Bigelow, who built his fortune in commercial real estate and is now working on a commercial space station. Unlike the others, Bell is staying under the radar as much as he can.