Defense contractors step up investments in commercial space companies

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CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:31 p.m. Eastern to clarify that Boeing led BridgeSat’s $10 million investment round; Boeing did not directly invest $10 million in the company.

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WASHINGTON — Established military contractors with extra cash frequently invest in companies and technologies they see as key to their future. Space startups with products and services that have national security applications have become especially attractive opportunities.

Two major deals were announced Sept 10. One is Boeing HorizonX Ventures’ investment in satellite communications firm BridgeSat. The company’s secret sauce is optical communications that enable connectivity in space through a network of ground stations and proprietary space terminals.

SECURE COMMUNICATIONS

BridgeSat is developing a global network of optical ground stations to transmit large amounts of data into space. Its stations support low Earth orbit and geostationary satellite optical communications. The goal is to provide secure transmissions between satellites, other spacecraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-altitude aircraft.

“Enabling BridgeSat to scale their operations accelerates secure, reliable satellite communications around the world,” said Brian Schettler, managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures.

BridgeSat was formed in 2015 in response to the cost, bandwidth and infrastructure limitations in space-based optical communications. The company recently announced an agreement with NASA to develop a free-space optical communication system that could support the agency’s future missions.

Boeing’s investment, part of a $10 million round the company led, will “help us meet the need for secure delivery of big data from LEO and GEO satellites at faster speeds and a lower cost than traditional radio frequency solutions,” said Barry Matsumori, chief executive officer of BridgeSat.

The BridgeSat investment comes on the heels of Boeing’s acquisition of satellite manufacturer Millennium Space Systems. 

GEOSPATIAL SERVICES

HawkEye360 is about to launch its first cluster satellites to track ships via their radio signals. Credit: HawkEye360
HawkEye360 is about to launch its first cluster satellites to track ships via their radio signals. Credit: HawkEye360

Another major Pentagon contractor, Raytheon, announced an alliance with commercial satellite company HawkEye 360.

Raytheon is making a strategic investment in HawkEye 360 in exchange for “unique level of access to data, enhancing the company’s analytics services for government customers.”

“Our plan is to fuse HawkEye 360’s geospatial information with other relevant data sources, further augmenting the intelligence we provide to our U.S. and international customers,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. 

HawkEye 360 uses low-flying, small satellites to collect radio frequencies for use in geospatial services, a capability that previously was only provided by the government. High-precision radio frequency mapping and location-based analytics are used in applications such as monitoring illegal fishing and tracking cargo fleet logistics.  The company will launch its Pathfinder cluster of three small satellites at the end of 2018, with additional clusters planned until the full constellation is in orbit by 2020.

“We are very excited to team with Raytheon to extend our analytics to their customers,” said HawkEye 360 CEO John Serafini.


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