Leaf Space, an Italian company specializing in Ground Segment-as-a-Service (GSaaS) solutions, has recently secured a substantial EUR 20M (USD 22M) in Series B funding. With 17 operational satellite ground stations worldwide and a portfolio of ~80 serviced satellites, Leaf Space is now preparing for the upcoming SpaceX Transporter-9 Rideshare mission. Leaf Space Co-Founders Jonata Puglia and Giovanni Pandolfi share the company’s approach to supporting missions including rideshare launches, the challenges faced, as well as the excitement of being part of the smallsat ecosystem
As recently announced by Leaf Space, the Italian company has now secured EUR 20M (USD 22M) in Series B funding, positioning itself among the world’s leading Ground Segment-as-a-Service (GSaaS) providers. With 17 active satellite ground stations worldwide and ~80 satellites currently being serviced, Leaf Space can plan the further expansion of its global network of stations, the integration of additional supported radio frequencies, and the optimization of its services to simplify its customers’ experience.
Fully funded and moving forward, Leaf Space’s team is looking ahead and preparing for this fall’s SpaceX Transporter-9 Rideshare mission, which will loft tens of smallsats and more than a dozen of Leaf Space’s customers. Whilst not the only way for a smallsat to reach orbit, Transporters missions have become the pace-setter for Leaf Space and other GSaaS providers. With dozens of satellites launched at once, the work of sales, mission management, and regulatory teams is geared towards ensuring that all customers to be supported are properly onboarded from contractual, technical, and regulatory perspectives by the launch date.
“On the road to the launchpad, satellite communication hardware and software must undergo multiple testing activities, such as mission control software integration, RF compatibility, and end-to-end testing,” explained Jonata Puglia, Leaf Space’s CEO and Co-Founder. “These activities can take between days and months depending on many factors.” Puglia noted that the integration of Leaf Space’s API into COTS mission control software, as well as their heritage experience with the support of multiple radios and protocols, can significantly speed up these processes.
“Work ramps up the closer we get to a launch date, and during the weeks just prior and after a launch, things can get very hectic,” added Giovanni Pandolfi Bortoletto, CSO, and Co-Founder of Leaf Space, “and the cycle never ends. As soon as that week or two of critical LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) is over, the timer is reset, and some of us – usually our regulatory guy – immediately starts thinking about the following launch, in particular if a Transporter mission.”
Ground station regulatory approval remains in fact a challenge for Ground Segment operators. When utilizing international ground stations, obtaining an FCC authorization is not enough: GSaaS providers must timely navigate across multiple and diverse telecom regulatory frameworks to secure ground station licenses for all the supported satellites, and do so by their launch date.
“National Regulators can take a couple of months or more to issue a ground station RF license, but they want satellites to have an ITU filing for us to even be able to submit a license request” Pandolfi noted. “When satellite operators plan for last-minute FCC authorizations, they leave no margin for that, and we can’t activate stations to provide full LEOP support. This significantly reduces flexibility if we are talking about a Rideshare mission.”
Another challenge for ground segment providers is managing operators that reach out last-minute for support. Pandolfi explained that “this requires some programming and testing, re-planning GS allocations, re-scheduling satellite passes, and coordinating with all the other customers. We can do it, and we did it, but if we are supporting 10 satellites launching on the same day, it’s hard to drop everything to prioritize a last-minute addition.”
Despite the challenges, Leaf Space is excited to keep working with smallsat operators and to support their preparation for launch campaigns. LEOPs, and that of rideshare missions in particular, might be stressful, but they are still a celebration of the work and efforts of hardware suppliers, manufacturers, operators, integrators, and ground segment providers, Puglia noted.
“These are not the only type of launch missions we support,” Pandolfi shared, “but the whole smallsat community has been shaped anew around Transporter and rideshare missions in general. Tens of companies work in sync and in cycles, coming together for a launch every 3 or 4 months. Leaf has been there with every Transporter since T-1, and we are more than happy to share our experience with operators and help the ecosystem thrive. This latest fundraising round will help us do just that.”