Kepler Communications raises $16 million for telecom constellation

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WASHINGTON — Canadian satellite startup Kepler Communications raised $16 million from investors, securing funding to build and launch its first-generation constellation of up to 15 satellites, the company announced today.

Costanoa Ventures, an early-stage tech investor fund, led the round with participation from Deutsche Bahn’s Digital Ventures and returning investors including IA Ventures.

Jeffrey Osborne, Kepler’s co-founder and vice president of business development, said the company intends to double in size from 20 people to 40 thanks to the new funding.

Kepler has raised $21 million to date as it seeks to operate a constellation of up to 140 small satellites for wideband communications, Internet of Things connectivity on the ground and, eventually, an in-space data-relay network. The Toronto startup has a prototype cubesat called KIPP providing wideband service today and a second demonstration satellite launching on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in November.

ÅAC Clyde is building a third and final prototype with participation from the Satellite Applications Catapult in the U.K. for a planned spring 2019 launch on a yet-to-be-announced rocket. Osborne said current plans call for adding a narrowband payload to that satellite for Internet of Things connectivity using S-band frequencies.

Kepler expects to have its first-generation constellation in orbit in 2020, providing store-and-forward communications and narrowband connectivity to sensors and other devices in the Internet of Things. Store and forward works by connecting customers only when a satellite is passing overhead. With one satellite in orbit, Osborne said the latency for store and forward is the smallest at the poles — around 90 minutes compared to 12 to 24 hours at the equator — due Kepler’s use of polar orbits.

As more satellites enter service, Kepler’s latency will decrease. The company plans to have a second generation of 50 satellites in orbit by the end of 2021, with the full 140-satellite constellation operational by the end of 2022.

In a news release, Kepler highlighted the shipping company F. Laeisz, which uses Kepler’s satellite to connect the Polarstern, an icebreaking vessel that operates at latitudes beyond the reach of most geostationary satellites.

“With the Kepler system, for the first time we are able to send massive files like operational data, scientific data, videos, or photos,” Thomas Liebe, chief operator of the Polarstern, said in a statement. “These are bandwidth intensive and we have no other way to send the data if we used traditional systems.”

Kepler’s Ku-band satellite offers higher throughputs than spacecraft in Iridium Communications’ nearly complete 66-satellite Iridium Next constellation, which though polar in orbit, is optimized for reliable low-data-rate communications. Iridium Certus, a connectivity service based on Iridium Next, is designed to reach speeds up to 1.4 Mbps over the L-band system. 

In contrast, Osborne said Kepler’s satellite can reach downlink speeds of 40 Megabits per second and 20 Mbps on the uplink.

“We are uniquely excited by Kepler as compared with all the recent nanosatellite communication companies because they have demonstrated that their satellites are filling global gaps in connectivity,” Greg Sands, Costanoa founder and managing partner, said in a statement. “Kepler has incredible technology, with KIPP having already demonstrated the highest data throughput ever achieved in a nanosatellite.”

Sands is joining Kepler’s board of directors following Costanoa’s investment.

Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures said parent company, the German railway company Deutsche Bahn, intends to use Kepler’s services.