Small communications satellite manufacturer Astranis has closed a $250 million Series C funding round. The close of the round values the company at $1.4 billion and will enable it to expand production of its satellites and develop its next generation of spacecraft.
Funding was lead by BlackRock with “significant participation,” according to the press release, from new Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Koch Strategic Platforms, Monashee Investment Management, and Uncorrelated Ventures. Existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Venrock, Fifty Years, ACE Early Stage Partners, Harpoon Ventures, Indicator Fund, Industry Ventures, Jaan Tallinn, Jeff Dean, Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud, Jude Gomila, Refactor Capital, Rising Tide Fund, SOMA Capital, and “others” also participated in the third round of funding.
Astranis is unique among the wave of New Space companies, a start-up building “Micro GEO” geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) satellites much smaller than traditional GEO communications spacecraft. Weighing in at 350 kilograms, about 20 times less in mass, the satellites can be built and launches at a fraction of the cost of the $300-$500 million spacecraft that have dominated the GEO world for decades.
“We are solving one of the biggest problems facing the world today,” said Astranis co-founder and CEO John Gedmark. “Four billion people do not have reliable access to broadband internet. Getting connectivity to those who need it the most changes lives in a profound way. It empowers people to take control of their health, education, and economic situation. We’re talking about something that is now absolutely part of the base of the hierarchy of needs.”
The latest round of funding will be used to “significantly expand” production of the Astranis platform, suggesting there are several customers that have expressed real interest in purchasing satellites. Money will also go into accelerating development of the company’s software-defined radio technology.
Astranis plans to own and operate its satellites, offering them to customers as a turn-key solution so it can deliver bandwidth-as-a-service with dedicated satellites for small and medium-sized countries, Fortune 500 companies, existing satellite operators and “other customers” – while the company doesn’t say this could include military buyers that need gap-filler and/or surge capacity around the world.
The company in the process of getting its first satellite launched to provide broadband services to Alaska. Astranis expects to launch it later this year, a delay from initial plans to have it in orbit by 2020 and perhaps just in the nick of time. SpaceX Starlink is going to conduct at least one launch of polar-orbiting satellites per month starting over the summer, OneWeb plans to offer broadband services to northern regions by the end of this year, and Telesat is ramping up operations for broadband by 2023-2024. Exactly how GEO and LEO will fit together is an area of much debate among established satellite operators, since they have invested billions of dollars in large GEO satellites over the decades. Micro GEO satellites could provide a more rapid path to delivering affordable broadband over larger geographic areas that don’t have near-term fiber plans.