SAN FRANCISCO — Supernet Ltd., the Pakistani corporate-data network service provider, announced plans Sept. 12 to establish a strategic partnership with LeoSat Enterprises, a Washington-based startup planning to launch a constellation of 78 to 108 communications satellites into low Earth orbit to offer secure, high-speed connections for businesses and government agencies.
LeoSat plans to provide Supernet with more than three gigabits of capacity on the global communications network it is developing, which is comprised of satellites built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy based on the firm’s EliteBus flown by Iridium Communications on its Iridium Next constellation and O3B Networks first-generation constellation.
LeoSat raised $11.5 million in a seed investment round that included an undisclosed amount from Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT. LeoSat plans to raise $100 million in a Series A round, which JSAT will anchor with “a significant stake,” LeoSat chief executive Mark Rigolle told SpaceNews.
In total, LeoSat plans to raise $3.75 billion with $2.5 billion coming from the French investment bank BPIfrance to establish what Rigolle calls “a true data network in space.”
“Instead of thinking about a constellation of satellites, think about a constellation of routers in space which happen to be satellites. Each of these routers is linked — north, south, east, west — with the four adjacent satellites in six polar orbits,” Rigolle said at the Space Technology and Investment Forum in San Francisco Aug. 30. “We can link Tokyo to Singapore to New York, depending on our customers’ needs, allowing rooftop-to-rooftop connectivity, which gives lower latency than is possible with fiber and higher security than is possible with any kind of patchwork network.”
If General Motors Corp., for example, wants to send data from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to the firm’s Detroit headquarters, data would travel in Ka-band to a satellite that would forward the data packets using laser inter-satellite links to a satellite near the destination where it would travel down in Ka-band.
“All this happens in the speed of light, which in space is it is roughly 300,000 kilometers per second,” Rigolle said. “Over longer distances, we lose out compared to fiber because the signal has to travel up 1,400 kilometers and down on either side. But we make up for that after 8,000 kilometers distance because we are going faster in space.”
Before building its initial constellation, which includes 13 active satellites and one orbiting spare in each of six polar orbits, LeoSat plans to launch two smaller satellites into adjacent orbital planes in 2019 to demonstrate its inter-satellite communications links.
“There is nothing science fiction about using lasers in space,” Rigolle said. “We’ve noticed investors want to see this fly before we’ll be able to raise the large amounts of equity we need at reasonable prices.”
After that demonstration, LeoSat plans to complete financing the constellation and begin producing “five, six, seven, eight” satellites per month in late 2019 or early 2020.
Because LeoSat needs more money than venture capital usually gives startups, the firm is wooing strategic investors that could profit by using LeoSat’s network or reselling its communications services. LeoSat’s target markets include government agencies and large enterprises in the oil and gas, financial, maritime, media and telecommunications industries.