Infostellar, watching coronavirus, extends capital raising effort

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MT LAUREL, New Jersey — Japanese ground station startup Infostellar announced $3.5 million in new funds April 29 from Airbus Ventures and other investors, but is seeking $1.2 million more by June as a bulwark against challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Infostellar has raised $11.5 million since forming in 2016 to provide communications services to small satellite operators by pooling excess capacity on commercial ground stations. The company began service in 2018 with StellarStation, a cloud platform that lets satellite operators take advantage of idle time on other operator’s ground stations to fly and communicate with their spacecraft. 

With a network of 13 partner ground stations, Infostellar plans to use its newfound cash to step up its sales efforts as it contends with the dual challenge of a global economic slowdown and robust competition from other ground-station-as-a-service providers such as RBC Signals, KSAT and Swedish Space Corporation. 

Infostellar raised its fresh $3.5 million through a convertible bond sale to existing investors Airbus Ventures and the Sony Innovation Fund. New investors, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, Mitsubishi UFJ Lease & Finance, and Daiwa Energy Infrastructure also purchased convertible bonds. 

Naomi Kurahara, Infostellar’s chief executive, said the coronavirus pandemic didn’t complicate the company’s fundraising efforts. “However, considering the risk of recession due to coronavirus, we decided to extend the financing period,” she said by email. 

Kurahara said StellarStation is already designed to support fully automated spacecraft operations, positioning Infostellar to capitalize on rising interest in remote operations as coronavirus exposes the downside of centralized mission control. 

Kurahara said the company will use its new funds to scale up sales and marketing activities, an effort that may include hiring up to eight people, which would increase Infostellar’s size to 24 people. 

“Like many startups, we are still investing in the growth and expansion of our business, so we are not yet cash-flow positive,” she said. “We are aiming to make a profit as our position in the market matures.”

Kurahara said the U.K.’s Satellite Applications Catapult uses Infostellar’s ground station network, but said the company isn’t sharing the names of other customers at present. Infostellar says customer satellites link to its network an average of 500 times a month.

Infostellar previously sought to have a network of 20 partner ground stations by 2018, but Kurahara said the company ran into licensing, regulatory and technical challenges that left that goal out of reach. She said the company later concluded 20 ground stations were not necessary to offer service. InfoStellar will add ground stations based on customer demand, and anticipates adding three to five more partner ground stations this year, she said.