Isotropic Systems gains Boeing as investor, partner on satellite user terminals

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WASHINGTON — Isotropic Systems, a startup developing modular antenna systems for satellite communications, has raised $14 million from a group of investors led by Boeing’s HorizonX venture investment arm.

In an interview, Isotropic founder and CEO John Finney said Boeing and Isotropic agreed to several “strategic elements” that go beyond the cash investment.

“We are looking toward cross-licensing our [intellectual property] to them to develop some other ventures where the exploitation value of our IP, we believe is enormous,” he said.

Isotropic Systems of London and Linthicum, Maryland, will gain access to Boeing experts, test labs, and other resources as it develops user terminals for high-throughput geostationary satellites and large constellations of internet satellites in lower orbits.

Boeing HorizonX Ventures is an investor in several space startups, including smallsat propulsion startup Accion Systems, laser communications startup BridgeSat and Internet-of-Things startup Myriota. Investors Space Angels and its institutional fund Space Capital also participated in Isotropic’s Series A, as did Waterlow Management Limited.

Finney said that Isotropic, founded in 2013, is developing not just antennas, but complete user terminals that include modems and all other equipment needed to communicate with satellites.

Isotropic’s user terminals use electronics instead of mechanical dishes to link with satellites, enabling communications with two or more spacecraft simultaneously — an important feature for broadband internet constellations. Finney mentioned Kymeta, Phasor and Satixfy as competitors.

Finney said Isotropic has demonstrated a “minimum viable product” for consumer broadband terminals using a combination of its own technology and commercial-off-the-shelf components.

“We can produce a terminal, certainly in Ku-[band], that is lower than $300,” he said. A Ka-band terminal would be sub-$450, he said.

Final products are still a few years from completion, however. Finney said Isotropic will do over-the-air testing with fleet operators Inmarsat of London and SES of Luxembourg this year, followed by prototyping final terminal designs in 2020.

“We will be looking to ship our early-stage production runs early in 2021 for our first products,” Finney said. “Those products will serve the interests of our strategic customers.”

Aeronautical terminals would likely take until 2022 in order to complete regulatory certifications, he said.

Finney said Isotropic’s first user terminals will be designed for Ka-band since many of the company’s partners — SES, Inmarsat and Avanti — all field satellites using those frequencies. Ku-band terminals, like those needed to work with OneWeb’s future constellation of low Earth orbit satellites, would follow six months later, but could be accelerated based on customer demand, he said.

Finney declined to say how much money Isotropic has raised to date, or how much the company will need to finish its terminals.

“From where we stand today, I fully believe that the company is set to achieve all milestones all the way out to cash-flow positive,” he said.

He said the 22-person company will likely place its chipset development work in the United Kingdom, citing access to resources like the U.K. Space Agency, Innovate UK and the Satellite Applications Catapult.