MinoSpace raises $14 million to develop larger satellites

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HELSINKI — MinoSpace has secured new series A round funding which the Beijing-based private satellite company will use to develop larger satellite platforms.

Minospace secured nearly 100 million yuan ($14.2 million) in funding led by investment firm Billionhome Capital.

The financing will go towards the development and launch of satellites with masses of 200 kilograms and above, MinoSpace CEO Gao Enyu announced (Chinese). 

The company, also known as Weina Star Technology Co., Ltd., is focused on developing platforms and payloads for its clients, rather than constructing its own constellations. It also develops ground station equipment.

The firm joins fellow Chinese startup Spacety, based in Changsha, in making the move to develop larger satellite platforms. Both companies started out developing and launching CubeSats for clients.

The move to larger satellites could bring the startups into some level of competition with state-owned space giants and their offshoots. 

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., (CASC), the country’s main satellite producer, focuses mainly on larger satellites and spacecraft for civil and national defense purposes. Major defense contractor and missile maker China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., (CASIC), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) also produce satellites at a range of masses. 

The distinction between state-owned and private is blurred to some degree in this context. Investors in MinoSpace include CAS Star, a venture capital firm linked to Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings Co., Ltd. One of its shareholders, the Hubei Changjiang Aerospace Industry Investment Fund, has shareholders including CASIC and its subsidiary Sanjiang Space Group Corp. CASIC Capital is also reported as an initial investor in MinoSpace.

Company founder Wu Shufan earlier worked as an engineer at the Engineering Center for Microsatellites under CAS. Wu worked at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC) prior to this.

Private investment in some areas of China’s space sector has been possible since 2014. The commercial space sector has since expanded rapidly following further policy support. Additionally ‘military-civil fusion’ helps facilitate the transfer of restricted technologies as part of a national strategy to boost innovation and develop synergies between the two spheres of activity. 

MinoSpace in orbit

MinoSpace saw four satellites reach orbit in 2019. The ‘Star Age-5’ satellite successfully achieved orbit after launch aboard the maiden flight of a new commercial light launch vehicle in August. Three MinoSpace satellites then piggybacked on a Dec. 20 launch from Taiyuan, north China. 

The company has sent seven satellites with masses less than 100 kilograms into orbit. It plans to launch more in July 2020. 

The payload for the first Chinese private orbital launch attempt was developed by MinoSpace for China Central Television (CCTV). That October 2018 launch ended in failure due to an issue with the rocket’s third stage. 

NewSpace startups emerged in China following a central government policy shift in late 2014, opening up the launch, small satellite and other sectors to private capital. 

At least 161 rounds of investment were made between 2015 and July 2019, Chinese publication Future Aerospace reported last year. MinoSpace previously secured an undisclosed amount of funding in September 2019.

A number of Chinese commercial companies—some being state-owned spinoffs rather than private entities—are planning low Earth orbit constellations in areas including remote sensing, communications, AIS and IoT satellites. These include Commsat, Linksure, ADA Space, Space OK, Laserfleet, Changguang Satellite Co. Ltd., Zhuhai Orbita, ZeroG Lab and Head Aerospace.