Iridium SNOC
Iridium's satellite network operations center. Credit: Iridium

WASHINGTON — Iridium Communications, in the first of what the company signaled could be many similar partnerships with new smallsat operators, has announced a collaborative agreement with a startup to expand its offerings in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Iridium signed a memorandum of understanding Sept. 7 with Magnitude Space, a Dutch startup that plans to launch its first two satellites next year, to work together on space-based IoT services.

Magnitude Space is a year-old Amsterdam startup with more than $5 million in capital from private investors and government funds, Ernst Peter Hovinga, co-founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews. The company is fully funded to launch its first satellite in the first half of next year on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, he said, and begin commercial service.

Magnitude Space’s constellation of 18 to 24 cubesats is designed to provide connectivity for sensors and devices that run on very limited power. Hovinga said the startup views itself as “an extension of low power terrestrial technologies such as Sigfox and LoRa,” two IoT standard bearers that have also partnered with satellite operators (Sigfox with Eutelsat; the LoRa Alliance with Thuraya and Inmarsat).

Magnitude Space is targeting customers who are not latency-sensitive, enabling the company to begin commercial service with a single cubesat. By comparison, many of Iridium’s customers — such as those using voice services — desire low latency achieved by having a high number of interlinked satellites in low Earth orbit.

“From the Iridium point of view, they have got IoT customers that need more high-end services on powered assets where two-way connectivity is required,” he said. “We deliver one-way low-power connectivity. Iridium’s customers typically also have assets that are unpowered, and that may require our service, so Iridium can offer the service that we deliver as an extension of our own.”

In an email to SpaceNews, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said Iridium doesn’t currently plan to make a monetary investment in Magnitude Space, but added that “anything is possible down the road.”

“We envision a future where numerous diverse satellite architectures interwork to support the dramatically expanding IoT universe,” Desch said in a Sept. 7 statement. “From high bandwidth access points to highly mobile and low latency devices like Iridium supports today, to low power, higher latency networks like Magnitude Space envisions, Iridium has the experience and global platform to enable all of these capabilities to interwork.”

Hovinga said Magnitude Space hasn’t confirmed a launch vehicle for its second satellite, but plans to launch it in 2018 as well. More cubesats will launch in 2019 and 2020, increasing service quality, he said.

Iridium described the partnership with Magnitude Space as “one of several relationships Iridium has been cultivating within the IoT industry, specifically for low power opportunities.” The company didn’t say whether other partnerships will be with the growing number of new IoT satellite startups, such as Kepler Communications, SAT4M2M, Helios, Else, eightyLEO and Sky and Space Global. Iridium’s interest in other non-geosynchronous (NGSO) players nonetheless follows the behavior of Intelsat, SES, Telesat, Sky Perfect Jsat and Thuraya, all of which are either investors in or owners of NGSO systems.

“The industry needs both medium-to-high power satellite-based IoT solutions, as well as [low power global area network] offerings, and we can now discuss ways to best leverage both our network, and their offerings to expand our portfolio of premium IoT solutions,” Tim Last, Iridium’s vice president and general manager for IoT business, said in a statement.

Hovinga said Magnitude Space is in the “advanced stages” of securing new capital to fund satellites beyond the first two launching next year. He estimated each six-unit cubesat, weighing about six kilograms, costs less than $1 million to launch. Innovative Solutions in Space is building the satellites with payloads from Dutch company Hyperion Technologies, he said.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...