WASHINGTON — Astranis, a startup developing small geostationary satellites, has brought onboard former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin as an adviser.
Astranis announced Sept. 17 that Goldin will chair the company’s new technical advisory board, and recently oversaw the critical design review of the company’s first satellite ahead of a mid-2021 launch.
In an interview, Astranis CEO John Gedmark said Goldin is “incredibly generous” with the time he provides to the company. “I talk to Dan almost every single day,” he said.
Goldin holds the record as NASA’s longest serving administrator, having led the agency for nine years from 1992 to 2001. He championed the “faster, better, cheaper” approach to mission management and shepherded the International Space Station program from the brink of cancelation to the start of continuous occupancy.
Goldin, in a news release, said he was impressed by Astranis pursuit of small GEO satellites 10 to 20 times lighter than traditional communications satellites. “I am joining Astranis because this is a transformational approach to satellite telecommunications,” Goldin said.
Gedmark said he met Goldin through Ethan Batraski, a partner at Venrock, one of Astranis’ investors.
“[Goldin] sees, in what we’re doing, a new way of doing things that is very different from the traditional aerospace big prime contractors,” Gedmark said. “He’s had a lot of success with that approach in the past, and there’s no question we had something of a ‘Vulcan mind meld’ on that topic.”
As an advisor, Goldin oversees a technical advisory board of 12 people that includes Roger Myers, the former general manager of Aerojet Redmond, Karl Clausing, a former Space Systems Loral vice president, and John Neer, founder of Space Imaging, a company that later merged with DigitalGlobe and became part of the modern company Maxar Technologies.
Gedmark said Goldin is helping shape Astranis’ future technology roadmap, which includes more sophisticated digital beamforming, a more powerful software-defined radio, and a larger deployable antenna. Astranis also wants to expand beyond Ka-band into the largely unused higher frequencies of Q- and V-band, he said.
Satellite manufacturers are offering a wider range of geostationary spacecraft, from several metric tons to a few hundred kilograms. Astranis is offering one of the smallest, at around 350 kilograms.
Astranis has raised $108 million in equity and debt, and numbers 103 people including contractors and interns, Gedmark said. The company is building its first satellite for Pacific Dataport Inc., which will use its capacity to provide internet across Alaska.
The satellite’s three-day critical design review went well, according to Goldin.
“To see such a young company present such a mature Critical Design Review was impressive,” he said in the news release.
Gedmark declined to comment on interest from customers besides Pacific Dataport, but said Goldin’s support at Astranis could benefit the company in the government sector.
“Dan has an in-depth knowledge of NASA and U.S. government space applications, and is helping us think through where we might be useful there as well,” he said.