SAN FRANCISCO – CesiumAstro Inc. raised $60 million in a Series B funding round led by Airbus Ventures and Forever Ventures. L3Harris Technologies also participated in the round alongside existing CesiumAstro investors: Kleiner Perkins, Lavrock Ventures, Franklin Templeton Blackhorse Fund and Heico Corp., an aerospace and electronics company based in Hollywood, Florida.
Austin, Texas-based CesiumAstro has raised nearly $90 million since it was founded in 2017 to develop and manufacture active phased array communications payloads for satellites and airborne platforms.
With the latest funding, CesiumAstro plans to expand manufacturing operations, establish offices and accelerate development of satellites built in-house, Shey Sabripour, CesiumAstro founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “CesiumAstro will accelerate the growth of its core research, development and rapid manufacturing capabilities, and expand its facilities both domestically and abroad,” he added.
CesiumAstro is preparing to open offices in Washington, Germany and El Segundo, California. The company already has facilities in Austin and Broomfield, Colorado.
El Segundo is “rich with aerospace talent” thanks to the presence of prime contractors, aerospace suppliers and the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command, Sabripour said. Another benefit of El Segundo is its proximity to existing and potential customers, he added.
CesiumAstro’s German office is designed to establish the company’s European presence.
“There’s a new set of commercial customers that are interested in our products for applications such as in-flight connectivity, both for traditional aircraft as well as for new air taxis,” Sabripour said. In addition, CesiumAstro anticipates demand from manufacturers of autonomous vehicles that are likely to be rely on satellite communications to maintain connectivity.
While it would be easier to manage the startup with the majority of employees working in the same facility, “it’s a very competitive market,” Sabripour said. “You have to go where the talent is.”
Currently, CesiumAstro employs about 80 people. Within the next 12 to 18 months, the company plans to double its staff as it expands its product line. CesiumAstro’s currently offers L-band, S-band, X-band, Ku-band and Ka-band payloads. In the future, the startup plans to offer additional frequencies including V-band and Q-band.
At the same time, CesiumAstro is developing its own 150- to 180-kilogram satellite as it strives to become vertically integrated.
CesiumAstro attempted to test communications payloads on two cubesats launched in September on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket alongside the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat 9 mission. Unfortunately, both cubesats experienced what Sabripour thinks were power failures that precluded demonstrations the company planned. Sabripour declined to name the cubesat manufacturer.
“Airbus Ventures is proud to be co-leading this round, alongside the force-multiplying capabilities of the Forever Ventures team,” Thomas d’Halluin, Airbus Ventures managing partner, said in a statement.
Wen Hsieh, Kleiner Perkins partner, said in a statement, “CesiumAstro’s full-stack system is critical to enabling higher connectivity speeds within our evolving aerial and space communications infrastructure. Its high-resiliency improves security, streamlines airline connectivity offerings, and enhances internet access in rural and over-crowded areas.”
Christopher E. Kubasik, L3Harris vice chair and CEO, said in a statement that the company’s investment in CesiumAstro was a reflection of its “strategy of partnering across industry to rapidly develop advanced multi-domain solutions that address our customers’ critical needs.”