VFCT Confident Microsatellite Platform Will Rise Above Competition
[Satellite News 07-21-08] Louis Brothers, founder and president of Valley Forge Composite Technologies (VFCT), is so confident that his company’s new small satellite platform will be a revolution for the industry that he invites critics and non-believers to see it themselves.
“We think our technology is better than anything else out there,” Brothers said in an interview with Satellite News. “We’re taking the platforms to two universities so that potential customers can look at them. We’re also going to send it to one of the major aerospace companies so they can take a look at it. If you have to see it to believe it, you can come here and take a look.”
What companies may not believe is that VFCT’s platform, designed for small scientific and commercial mircosatellites up to 250 kilograms, will cost half as much as competing technology. In addition, the state-of-the-art technology is strong and durable and set at a cost that allows even the smallest organizations to launch systems of several satellites that will operate as a single unit, a method dubbed for formation flying constellations, said Brothers.
“We don’t have the overhead that some companies do,” Brothers said. “That’s a small percentage of the reason we’re cost-effective. We’re using some of the best technologies and resources from around the world. We’re able to get the right engineering on the platform to make sure it’s structurally superior and also to make sure the price is affordable. It’s a worldwide effort to get this accomplished. I have to give a lot of credit to some of the space agencies of the Russian Federation, because a lot of the technology did come from them. We can also have the platform manufactured in Russia, which will reduce cost.”
Kyle Seger, an aerospace engineer for VFCT, said the platform will cut several costly steps out of the process of manufacturing a satellite. “What we’re trying to do for the customer is that not only do we have the platform, we have all the on-sensor star trackers,” said Seger. “The platform has a fully integrated suite of instruments and all you have to do is place in your scientific instruments and you’re ready to go. The integration is already done for you.”
VFCT also plans to provide launch services, and while becoming a small, turnkey service provider may sound overly ambitious, the idea is entirely realistic to Brothers. “There are a couple of new launch sites going up around the world — in South Africa and the new facility the Russian Federation is building to get out of Baikonur. The people we’re working with in Russia, they specialize in rockets and we’re inking and agreement for those capabilities. Hopefully we’ll be able to offer the platform and the launch capability.”
VFCT has developed a business in providing a one-stop service for the acquisition, development, manufacturing and distribution of next-generation counter-terrorism and aerospace technologies and is approaching the satellite manufacturing and launch industry in the same way. “We’re a very small company, but boy, do we have powerful technology, said Brothers. “For example, we have a personal screener for passengers getting on planes at the airport. That’s a state-of-the-art product that we’re going to roll out worldwide this summer. We’re working with the [U.S.] Department of Energy on a particle accelerator. We’re working with the National Nuclear Security Administration on a cargo detection system that will be done by the end of the year. Also, we have a nuclear explosion detection system which is the best in world. The [satellite] platform is just the next step in a series of steps to fill our advanced systems portfolio, and it’s a real nice one.”
The satellite industry, however, is a different and more difficult game, said Marco Caceres, a senior analyst and director of space studies at Teal Group.
“If smaller companies are their target, then it’s a new strategy and it could work because there are a lot of small companies and universities that can’t afford to buy or design a unique, small satellite from the ground up,” said Caceres. “However, there’s not really a huge market to build these small satellites in a unique way. Even if they provide these satellite launch service at half the cost — between approximately $10 million to $20 million — it will still be a little too costly for their target clientele, especially if it’s a university that is not going to put the satellite to use making money. If they go under $10 million, then it might be a little more realistic. If you have something like an Iridium constellation, where you’re buying 50 of the same kind of satellites with the same specifications, it would make sense.”
VFCT’s platform is about ready to hit the market, and while the company has not had any interest up front, it is attracting attention from an unnamed “major” aerospace company, said Brothers. VFCT anticipates revenues of between $60 million and $75 million this year, he said.
“We’ve talked to some of the big aerospace companies and some of the smaller ones,” said Brothers. “We knew there was a large demand for high-quality platforms with great stability and new technology. We were able to fill that gap. We knew what was there, and now we’re talking to people. We don’t think it’s going to be hard to sell these platforms. We’re very confident. Other companies may have similar platforms, but not with the stability and accuracy of ours and not with the full set of instruments, which were designed around the platform.”
Caceres is not as confident in the size of the market, as VFCT is banking on finding a niche as unique as its product. “They’re trying to establish their own market,” he said. “They’ll probably find a dozen or so clients, but not hundreds.”