Japanese startup raises $7.3 million for smallsat antenna sharing service
PARIS — Infostellar, a Tokyo startup creating a service that lets smallsat operators tap into ground stations around the world, has raised $7.3 million from a team that includes the early-stage investor arms of Airbus and Sony.
Airbus Ventures led the 21-month-old company’s Series A capital raise, with the Sony Innovation Fund and four other Japanese investors — D4V, FreakOut Holdings, 500 Startups Japan, and Weru Investment contributing. Infostellar plans to use the money to launch a cloud-based satellite antenna-sharing platform called StellarStation next month, and to hire additional employees.
Infostellar’s service works by pooling idle time on established satellite operator’s ground station antennas into a network connected by a sharing module. Naomi Kurahara, Infostellar’s co-founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews the company has five partner stations to date, spread across Africa and Asia.
“Our partners, the antenna owners, most of them operate one to three satellites, and one satellite takes about one hour per day,” she said. “So on average, they are using their stations for two hours per day, and the rest they can provide to us.”
Infostellar joins a rising number of companies tailoring ground segment services for small satellite operators. Large Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect Jsat partnered with Norwegian company Kongsberg Satellite Services in December to provide services for low-Earth orbit satellites. SSC in Sweden launched a smallsat-focused ground service in 2016 for operators to downlink large quantities of data and perform telemetry, tracking and command of their satellites. And in Italy, Milan-based Leaf Space is building out a network of global ground stations optimized for smallsats.
Kurahara said Infostellar will seek to offer lower prices to create a competitive advantage.
“In general, the market price for [X- and S-band] dish antennas is about $200 to $500 per pass. We will bring the price down. For ultra-high frequency there is no solid market price, but it seems $50 to $100 per pass is about average. And again we will bring prices down,” she said.
Over the next 12 months, Infostellar would like its network to encompass 20 partner ground stations, Kurahara said.
“For our near term goal, we want to have the largest ground station network in terms of the number of antenna sites,” she said.
Infostellar also plans to build 10 ground stations for research and development, she said.
Kurahara said Infostellar has raised $8.3 million total since formation. She described the mood amongst Japanese investors in putting capital into the space industry as improving, with large companies taking greater interest in the industry.
In a Sept. 13 statement, Infostellar’s new investors praised the company for its potential and vision.
“When we first met Kurahara-san and Ishigame-san, all they had was a deck and a crazy idea to build an Airbnb for satellite antennas,” James Riney, managing partner and head of 500 Startups Japan, said. “It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come with a small seed investment.”
Kurahara said most of Infostellar’s customers today are academic institutions performing scientific and remote sensing projects. In the future, the company’s customer mix should include more commercial constellations, she said.