Via Satellite
Found inFeature

Satellite Executive of the Year Nominees for 2017

Via Satellite is proud to announce the nominees for its prestigious Satellite Executive of the Year award for 2017.

Peter PlatzerSpire

Peter Platzer, CEO, Spire Global

Although countless NewSpace entrepreneurs present unique and interesting ideas to investors, very few are able to turn their ambitions into successful businesses. Peter Platzer is one of those select few who actually have. As CEO of Spire Global, Platzer is arguably one of the first entrepreneurs to mature their NewSpace startup into a fully-fledged industry force, raising the bar on what Earth Observation (EO) companies are able to do along the way.

Spire has accomplished more in its five years of existence than almost anyone could have predicted. Most notably, it has erased the line between government and commercial EO operations. Under Platzer’s leadership, Spire bucked historical precedent to become the first EO company to provide commercial weather data to the U.S. government, securing a $370,000 Commercial Weather Data Pilot contract from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). Alongside Ball Aerospace, Spire also developed a data collection and analysis platform that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) used to literally redraw the maps of Arctic shipping routes.

2017 was a year of aggressive growth for Spire. The company launched four dozen satellites and brought its Spire Sense maritime product up to par with the competition. It made several key hires, including a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a global human resources director overlooking all five of the company’s offices, and a vice president of federal business. Moreover, to meet the demands of building several dozen satellites per year, Platzer expanded Spire’s Glasgow operations to include a new satellite production and test facility. According to Platzer, the facility has shaved weeks off the build time of any one satellite.

Spire also secured a $70 million Series C financing round in November, which led to the opening of a new European headquarters in Luxembourg. Like its predecessors in satellite (SES comes to mind), Spire sees the space-savvy country as fertile ground to continue expanding its customer reach.

All the while, Platzer has maintained his quirky methods of leadership. He is notoriously picky, for example, when it comes to hiring new staff, as he’s publicly pledged to avoid firing employees.

It’s because of these accomplishments and his singular vision that Via Satellite has selected Platzer as a SEOTY nominee this year.

Howard LanceMaxar Technologies

Howard Lance, CEO, Maxar Technologies

Howard Lance’s tenure as president and CEO of Maxar Technologies has been relatively short — he only just took up the position in 2016 (when Maxar was still MDA). And yet, in just a year and a half, Lance has driven the already established business to great new heights, thrusting it into untapped markets and picking up a slew of high-value customers along the way.

Most prominently, Lance navigated MDA through one of the most significant acquisitions in the history of commercial space, combining four major space brands — SSL, MDA, DigitalGlobe and Radiant Solutions — into a single powerhouse business. Lance’s vision was to create a vertically integrated company with the breadth and experience to provide a range of end-to-end solutions, spanning geospatial imagery and analysis, remote sensing/Earth Observation (EO), ground systems, in-orbit satellite servicing and much, much more.

DigitalGlobe selecting SSL in July to construct its next-gen WorldView Legion constellation speaks volumes about the companies’ complementary attributes. SSL has slowly built a reputation for manufacturing smallsats and other spacecraft solutions; combined with DigitalGlobe and Radiant Solutions’ data analytics expertise, as well as MDA’s customer reach across Canada and the U.S., Maxar Technologies will no doubt blossom into a force to be reckoned with in the months and years to come.

Lance has been a true advocate of nascent technologies revolutionizing the modern era of space. In 2017, SSL unveiled its new Ultra High Density Satellite (UHDS) technology, which maximizes satellite capacity for densely populated regions to provide hyperfast broadband speeds. Soon after, SSL secured its first contract for a UHDS spacecraft: EchoStar 24/Jupiter 3 for Hughes Network Systems.

Lance has alos played a key role in fulfilling Maxar’s “U.S. Access Plan,” the company’s strategy to better position itself to serve U.S. government customers. The strategy has led SSL to secure not just one but two long-term government contracts: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, which is developing a spacecraft capable of in-orbit inspection of satellites, repair, augmentation, refueling, and even assembly; and NASA’s Restore-L program, which is developing concurrent servicing capabilities for Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

MDA also signed a contract with the NATO Communications and Information Agency to develop Triton, a maritime command and control platform that allow Canadian and NATO forces to share a common view of the battle space and improve situational awareness. NATO intends to adopt the platform across the entirety of its military maritime operations, allowing all member nations to mutually benefit from the shared data.

Lance’s stalwart leadership has generated a lot of confidence about the future of the new Maxar brand. Since debuting on the New York Stock Exchange in October, its share prices have already ballooned 16 percent. It’s quite realistic to assume the company’s value will only swell further as Lance guides Maxar through the next generation of space and satellite capabilities.

Gwynne ShotwellSpaceX

Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer, SpaceX

For SpaceX and space enthusiasts around the world, 2016 feels like it happened a decade ago. That’s because in the 16 months since the catastrophic (and very public) explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket on a Cape Canaveral launch and the loss of a Facebook satellite passenger, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell delivered on her promise that the company would bounce back and make history in 2017. In fact, the company made history not only once, but several times throughout the year, for several different reasons.

While Elon Musk led efforts to reassure the public that SpaceX’s technology was sound, Shotwell led company operations through an incredible year, during which they somehow pulled off a record 18 successful launch missions — three of those happening within a single month (June 2017). SpaceX made history in a completely different category in March 2017, when it became the first launch company to fly a segment of a rocket that was used in another launch last year. Not stopping there, Shotwell reached another historic milestone for the private sector when she signed SpaceX’s first contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch its X-37B spaceplane on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, loosening United Launch Alliance’s long-held and firm grip on U.S. military launch contracts. Shotwell would add an exclamation point to this victory by winning a second U.S. military contract to launch the GPS 3 navigation satellite from Cape Canaveral within the same year. SpaceX also continues to expand its business partnership with NASA, winning contracts to orbit a joint U.S.-European oceanography mission and the next land imaging satellite in the Landsat series on the Falcon 9.

Shotwell’s accomplishments in 2017 extend beyond the launch pad. She was instrumental in raising $449.9 million in working capital for SpaceX, boosting the company value to $21.5 billion by the end of the year. Already one of the most respected and admired executives in the industry, she also emerged as a leading voice for streamlined launch regulatory practices in 2017, fighting for expanded launch access to space at the U.S. National Space Council. She is tremendously supportive of the SpaceX workforce and has inspired thousands of young women around the world to pursue a career in the aerospace industry. This past summer, Musk stated publically that SpaceX wouldn’t be where it is today without Shotwell’s leadership over the past 15 years. We couldn’t agree more.

Rick AmbroseLockheed Martin Space Systems

Rick Ambrose, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

Driving innovative change at one of the world’s most established aerospace contractors, Rick Ambrose successfully established the foundation of a new business model in 2017 that will ensure Lockheed Martin Space Systems remains a powerful force at the cutting edge long into the future. This year, the company broke ground on its $350 million state-of-the-art Gateway Center satellite assembly and test facility in Denver, Colorado, while introducing a new, versatile line-up of nanosat and high-powered satellite buses —a product of Lockheed’s $300 million investment to completely revamp its satellite solutions. Ambrose directed the flight of the first 3D printed components in deep space on NASA’s Juno spacecraft and is currently working to flight-certify 3D printed satellite propulsion tanks, which could cut costs and delivery times in half. He also personally led the implementation of an all-digital approach to Lockheed’s engineering process that incorporates virtual reality and model-based engineering to streamline operations and improve quality. Late in the year, Ambrose secured a partnered with NEC to integrate artificial intelligence software to analyze data collected by sensors from satellites in space.

Complete innovative make-overs of this scale would completely consume most executives. But, Ambrose also made sure Lockheed Martin Space Systems delivered on its ambitious 2017 business and operational targets. The company completed and delivered the first GPS 3 satellite and launched the SBIRS GEO 3 satellite for the U.S. Air Force, won NASA’s NextSTEP contract to design and deliver a full-scale prototype for a deep-space lunar habitat prototype and a next-generation deep-space avionics integration lab, and completed the integration of the HellasSat4/SaudiGeoSat 1 satellite earlier this year. Throughout the year, Lockheed Martin Space Systems has exceeded analysts’ expectations while confidently affirming its position as a cornerstone of the U.S. space industry. Rick Ambrose is at the forefront of it all — including spearheading multi-million dollar partnerships with the University of Colorado-Boulder and Metropolitan State University of Denver as part of Lockheed Martin’s Generation Beyond campaign, which has reached more than 1 million students nationwide to spark interest in STEM careers using space technology and exploration. This nomination recognizes Ambrose’s unique ability to simultaneously drive new business opportunities, build on its industry presence, and innovate operations at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Steven VolzNOAA

Steven Volz, Assistant Administrator, NOAA Satellite and Information Services (NESDIS), and Acting Assistant Secretary, NOAA Environmental Observation & Prediction Division

While we normally consider the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a government agency end-user, we are recognizing the achievements of its executive leader, who has enabled and supervised the recent execution of $3 billion worth of commercial satellite contracts. Steven Volz has become the model government aerospace business partner and champion of public and private collaboration. In 2017, he established a new strategic commercial engagement plan for the commercial satellite industry to partner and contract with the agency to deliver its space-based environmental observations. He initiated multiple industry engagement events, such as NOAA’s Emerging Technologies Workshop in August 2017 and launched its first Commercial Weather Data Pilot Program to demonstrate the potential for commercial data to supplement public sector data used in weather forecasting.

While NOAA primarily functions as a public service provider, it does so very similarly to a private commercial aerospace company. Upon evaluating Volz’s executive leadership using the same metrics, we discovered a remarkable year for his team at the agency in 2017. He successfully delivered uninterrupted, 24/7 satellite-based data and information products and services for customers that assisted in over 240 rescues of individuals in distress, as well as monitored emergency disaster and space/environmental impact events caused by climate change.

Volz supervised the launch of NOAA’s most advanced polar-orbiting satellite JPSS 1, now NOAA 20, in November. NOAA 20 is part of a new series of polar-orbiting satellites and a major milestone in advancing the agency’s mission to protect life and property and safeguard economic livelihood. Volz also brought the GOES 16 satellite into full operation for the National Weather Service (NWS), enhancing the United States’ weather forecasting ability for hurricane and storm track forecasting, early warning of lightning ground strike hazards, and fire detection warning capabilities. Imagine how many more lives would have been lost during the 2017 U.S. hurricane season without these achievements.

Volz’s name carries respect on the international stage, as well. In 2017, he was awarded chairmanship of the Strategic Implementation Team (SIT) of the International Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, which comprises 60 member space agencies and associate organizations operating 151 satellites. He was also named Chair of the 2017 GEO Plenary, which was attended by more than 500 experts from diverse sectors and technical areas around the world. Volz has made a tremendous, positive impact on our industry and our planet. We are thrilled to nominate him for our 2017 Satellite Executive of the Year award.

Pierre-Jean BeylierSpeedcast

Pierre-Jean Beylier, CEO, Speedcast

Of all the companies in the satellite sector, it is hard to pick one that has undergone such a radical transformation as Speedcast over the last few years. The company is now a huge force on the global satellite landscape, and its CEO Pierre-Jean Beylier a perennial contender for individual awards in the industry.

Speedcast now has an incredibly robust and global network, leveraging about 9000 Mhz of satellite capacity. The company aims to lead the way in moving the industry away from speeds and feeds to be an end-to-end managed service provider. Speedcast believes it is now less about satellite, and more about communication and is looking to move it away from just a technology discussion, and more about the services the technology enables.

2017 was yet another banner year for the company. It actually started with a bang with the completion of the Harris Caprock acquisition in the first week of January, a deal that underlined Speedcast’s ambitions. The aim of this deal was to position Speedcast as a leader in key energy, maritime and cruise markets supporting thousands of ships, rigs and enterprise customers globally. Given that Harris Caprock was a much bigger company than Speedcast when the acquisition was done, the deal was a sign of Beylier’s ambition.

Another key highlight was the company’s acquisition of UltiSat which created the fourth pillar of growth for Speedcast. It accelerated the growth in the government sector by extending Speedcast’s position serving government and Inter-Governmental Organization (IGO) customers at a time when Speedcast believes spending is expected to rise in the nearly $5 billion market for government and military satellite communications. Speedcast also aims to capitalize on the experience UltiSat has in the government aero market. UltiSat is a provider of remote communications and high-touch professional services in these sectors, in particular to the U.S. government.

In 2017, the company signed a slew of contracts across government, maritime and energy. One of the main highlights was deal with Royal Caribbean (RCCL), one of the world’s largest cruise line operators. RCCL signed an extension to Speedcast’s contract for managed services on a fleet of more than 35 ships. This extension positions Speedcast to hold significant market share within the cruise segment. In May of this year, Speedcast was able to deliver speeds of 400 Mbps to a single cruise ship on one of Royal Caribbean’s newly-launched, signature-brand ships.

From a revenue perspective, Speedcast is on course to have a strong 2017 despite macro-economic challenges in a number of the markets it serves. It is expected to more than double revenues in 2017 compared with 2016, and EBITDA in 2017 should be 3X 2016 EBITDA. These are in line with market expectations.

In a very short space of time, Speedcast has become one of the global leaders in critical and remote communications, bringing highly reliable satellite services to more places around the world. Beylier has created a technology-agnostic company with a multi-access, multi-band, multi-orbit, multi-technology network with truly global reach. Speedcast is changing the way customers see remote communications providers. Rather than being a connectivity provider, the company aims to become a strategic business partner that deeply understands its customers’ business.

Thanks to strong growth, a slew of deals, and a complete company transformation, Pierre-Jean Beylier, has been nominated for Satellite Executive of the Year. VS