WASHINGTON — French Internet of Things startup Kinéis has raised 100 million euros ($110.5 million) from private and public investors to fund a constellation of 25 cubesats.
Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS), a French maritime and environmental monitoring company that spun off Kinéis last year, led the round, with participation from the French space agency CNES, the French National Institute for Ocean Science (Ifremer), and several others.
French industrial partners Thales Group, cubesat builder Hemeria and software engineering company Celad also participated in the round, as did the SPI, a fund managed by BpiFrance and the European Investment Bank.
Alexandre Tisserant, chief executive of Kinéis, said the financing was all equity based and fully funds the buildout of the company’s constellation, including manufacturing, launch, ground infrastructure and insurance. The money will also allow Kinéis to grow to 45 people from 25 by the end of the year, he said.
More than half of the 100 million euros came from private investors, including BNP Paribas Développement, Tisserant said. CLS remains the largest shareholder, retaining a 32% ownership stake in Kinéis through its investment. CNES owns 34% of CLS, a company that generated nearly 135 million euros in revenue last year.
Kinéis has been operating on revenue from Argos, a system of seven hosted payloads and one experimental smallsat that it inherited from CLS last year, plus funds that CLS pre-committed as part of the investment round, Tisserant said.
Argos collects one-way data from maritime beacons, including humidity, temperature and sea level, but is limited in throughput and the types of services it can provide. Kinéis is spearheading a cubesat constellation to replace Argos with a more powerful, two-way connectivity system that can link devices in multiple industries.
“We are going from an eight-satellite constellation that is working today with limited capacity to full capacity with performance of a new constellation starting 2022,” Tisserant told SpaceNews. “This is really what will help us to scale and to go from 20,000 beacons today to millions, we hope, in several years.”
Tisserant said Hemeria will build Kinéis’ satellites with payloads from Thales Alenia Space. French small-to-medium sized businesses, branded together as the “NewSpace Factory,” will contribute components for the constellation, and Austrian startup Enpulsion will provide electric propulsion systems, he said.
The satellites will each have a primary payload for connecting Internet of Things devices, plus a secondary Automatic Identification System payload for tracking ships, he said.
Tisserant said Kinéis had not talked much about including AIS payloads until recently, having focused more on Internet of Things applications. Adding AIS will make Kinéis a competitor to Spire, exactEarth, Orbcomm and others.
Tisserant said Kinéis plans to launch its 16-unit cubesats in groups of five during the second half of 2022, with service starting early in 2023. To accelerate service start, Kinéis will likely book one or two dedicated smallsat launchers in addition to using rideshares, he said.
Kinéis is targeting a 650-kilometer low Earth orbit for its constellation, with satellites lasting eight years, Tisserant said. The company wants to launch its satellites directly into their designated orbital plane, rather than use propulsion to drift to their operating orbit after deployment, he said. Each satellite will weigh less than 30 kilograms, according to a news release.
Tisserant said Kinéis chose to outsource satellite manufacturing because of the familiarity of its manufacturing partners with Argos, and because Kinéis’ founders are more familiar with developing satellite applications than with manufacturing. A competing Internet of Things startup, Kepler Communications of Toronto, Canada, recently announced it would be building its 140-satellite constellation in-house.
Kinéis will have its own network of ground stations, however. Tisserant said the company selected Thales Alenia Space to build 20 ground stations that will use flat, electronically steered antennas to connect Kinéis’ constellation.
Commercial ground station operators lack the full coverage Kinéis wants, and become increasingly expensive with larger constellations, he said.
Tisserant said Kinéis can place the ground stations on land owned by partners of the original Argos network, such as Eumetsat and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will help keep costs down. The flat-panel antennas will be able to link to six satellites simultaneously, he said, whereas traditional parabolic dish antennas can only communicate with one satellite at a time.
Tisserant said Kinéis won’t build user terminals, but is supplying chipsets that it will share with ground infrastructure partners. The goal is to enable terminals costing just a “few tens of euros,” he said.
Tisserant said Kinéis has one final Argos hosted payload awaiting launch on India’s Oceansat-3 satellite in mid-2020 through a partnership with the Indian Space Research Organisation. He said four to five legacy Argos payloads should still be in orbit in 2023 when Kinéis’ cubesat constellation begins service.