TAMPA, Fla. — Canadian startup Exodus Orbitals plans to launch its first satellite in March to take the software-defined space trend a step further, providing a platform for third parties to upload and run their applications from orbit.

Software-defined satellites can be reprogrammed in space, enabling operators on the ground to reconfigure them for different applications after they are launched to orbit.

They are increasingly popular among companies looking for more flexibility in geostationary orbit (GEO), amid uncertainty around how a surge of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) will affect their businesses.

Exodus Orbitals aims to expand the software-defined concept in LEO, founder and CEO Dennis Silin said in an interview.

“Think of the satellite as an iPhone in space where people can submit their apps,” Silin said.

“The simplest app could be a camera app where you take a photo and download it.”

Exodus Orbitals is initially focusing on selecting instruments for its debut satellite that are most useful for Earth observation applications.

Silin said an undisclosed U.S. partner is building the satellite and it is working with another company based in the country to secure a launch next year, although it does not yet have a firm contract in place. 

In June, he said the startup successfully flight-tested computer code needed to run its open platform. The test involved the European Space Agency’s OPS-SAT cubesat, which launched in December 2019 to serve as an on-orbit testbed for advanced software-driven capabilities.

Exodus Orbitals is essentially commercializing OPS-SAT, which Silin said is attracting demand that far exceeds the capability of the 3U cubesat. 

The biggest challenge to Exodus Orbitals’ open-platform approach is ensuring that multiple third-party applications can run on the same satellite without harming it, by crashing onboard computers or sending conflicting mission-critical commands.

However, Silin said lessons learned through participating in the OP-SAT mission, which ESA billed as “the world’s only spacecraft freely open for public use,” give him “confidence that this problem will not be a showstopper.”

Exodus Orbitals is seeking seed funding to accelerate its deployment after securing its first investment from Moonshot, the Australian business incubator.

Silin said the company has “some small customer commitments,” adding that its “best-case scenario” involves ramping up to between 30 and 100 satellites in five years, depending on demand and financing.

The startup aims to expand beyond small-scale exploration experiments into a “fully blown AppStore in space platform.”

It also has a partnership with Ashburn, Virginia-based communications startup LEOcloud to develop satellite-based cloud computing.

On July 22, Exodus Orbitals said it is teaming up with Lady Rocket Foundation, a public charity that runs a series of entrepreneurial space initiatives, to develop blockchain-based digital collectibles known as nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

Funds raised from selling these NFTs will be used to acquire and access satellite observation activities for protecting African wildlife against poaching and climate change. Copernic Space, a startup developing a blockchain-powered platform designed for space assets, is working on the initiative.

Texas-based Hypergiant, which is also planning a fleet of reconfigurable software-defined satellites, recently secured a U.S. Air Force indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract to support its development.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...