The Arcturus satellite can be seen en route to geosynchronous orbit.
Astranis, a San Francisco-based company taking an alternative approach to delivering internet access from satellites, has put its first spacecraft into orbit, which it said Wednesday is working “perfectly.”
“We have a new way to connect people in some of the most remote and underserved areas of the world,” Astranis CEO John Gedmark told CNBC.
The company’s largely in-house small satellite, called Arcturus, was launched earlier this month on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and recently reached orbit. Astranis has completed satellite testing, including the first connection to user equipment in Alaska, the target of its service.
“It’s a very, very important thing that this test validates everything we’ve been working on and working on,” Gedmark said.
The Arcturus satellite is seen deploying its solar panels in the background from the upper stage of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
Astranis is one of many next-generation broadband satellite systems in development as companies race to meet the world’s growing demand for data — including SpaceX’s Starlink, British-owned OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, AST SpaceMobile, etc.
But the company’s approach is a “third way” to deliver broadband service from space, Gerdmark explained.The company’s dishwasher-sized satellites combine small satellites like SpaceX’s Starlink in low Earth orbit with the distant geosynchronous orbits of traditional satellites ViaSun.
Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) is about 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface — a position that allows spacecraft to stay above a fixed position, matching the Earth’s rotation.
Arcturus is a fraction of the size and cost of traditional GEO satellites.
“We can build these satellites very quickly compared to before,” Gedmark said.
In its press release, Astranis highlighted 13 major completed milestones for Arcturus. Gedmark stressed that the company is “incredibly proud” of the satellite’s performance to date, withstanding the “ultra-harsh radiation environment” and “extreme temperature ranges” experienced by GEO spacecraft.
Gedmark said Arcturus was running about 10% to 15% faster than specified, which equates to a total capacity of about 8.5 gigabits per second. For users, Astranis expects its satellites to provide download speeds of about 25 megabits per second.
Alaska service coming soon
The Gateway ground station at Eagle Mountain, Utah.
Arcturus sits above Alaska, and Astranis’ first customer, telecommunications provider Pacific Dataport, will use it to triple the data speeds available to customers across the state. Gedmark noted that about 40 percent of Alaskans do not have access to reliable broadband internet, an “alarming figure” that shows the state has been “lack of satellite capacity.”
“We cover the entire state, including many of the most remote islands in the Aleutians,” Gedmark said, adding that Arcturus “will give hundreds of thousands of people access to true broadband Internet.”
Most of Astranis’ target users are businesses – such as industrial companies, schools and hospitals – rather than individual or residential customers.
The company expects Arcturus to begin service in mid-June after completing further validation steps.
Astranis employees cheer as they watch the launch event at company headquarters in San Francisco, California.
Since its inception in 2015, Astranis has raised more than $350 million at a valuation of more than $1 billion, with investors including BlackRock, Fidelity, Andreessen Horowitz, Baillie Gifford and Venrock. The company has more than 300 employees.
As for raising more money, Gerdmark said the company remains in a “strong cash position” and is currently focused on making sure it serves “people who really needed the internet yesterday” as quickly as possible.
Astranis has a demand pipeline worth more than $1 billion, representing orders for 10 satellites over the next two years.
It expects to launch four more satellites later this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.one of these four in Deal with Latin American service provider Grupo Andesat, provides satellites to provide better broadband access to up to 3 million people in Peru. Two more satellites are for mobility-focused Anuvu, which provides Southwest Airlines with services such as in-flight WiFi, and the final satellite is for an unnamed commercial customer.
Gedmark had previously estimated the broadband demand market as a $1 trillion global opportunity, noting that Astranis’ existing pipeline featured contracts with options for additional satellites.
“We’re ready to deploy many of these satellites around the world to help connect people,” Gedmark said.