TAMPA, Fla. — A year-old Portuguese startup has raised around $2 million to fly a payload on a commercial small satellite to demonstrate plans for a narrowband connectivity network.

Connected hopes to show it could leverage empty space aboard small satellites to provide a network capable of connecting irrigation controllers and other off-the-grid monitoring and tracking devices.

Cheaper satellite manufacturing and launch costs are pushing the space industry toward larger, higher-performing spacecraft, which Connected CEO and cofounder Tiago Rebelo says opens up more opportunities to integrate third-party payloads. 

“During the design phase of these satellites there’s often some margin in mechanical and power demands, typically below 10% to 15% of the overall capacity,” said Rebelo, who previously led Portuguese Earth observation operator Geosat. 

“While this may not seem substantial, it represents an opportunity for us.”

Connected aims to avoid the costs of building and launching its own satellites by paying low Earth orbit operators to host its payloads, which the startup would use to connect customers with Internet of Things (IoT) devices operating under standard 5G narrowband network protocols, or 5G NB-IoT.

Rebelo said the payload has two antennas and a volume of about 2U — the size of two cubesats — and depending on its operational mode and objectives consumes up to 30W of power.

Although the payload could be integrated with satellites as small as 6U, he said hosts that are 12U or larger are more suitable candidates.

Integration requirements range from simple mechanical attachment with a power line to full data integration, he said, where the payload becomes an integral part of the platform.

However, Connected has yet to secure any takers as work continues to prove the direct-to-device technology in the market. 

While some of the payload’s hardware has already been successfully validated in orbit, Rebelo said the software the venture needs to provide 5G NB-IoT connectivity has not yet been demonstrated in space. 

He said British small satellite specialist Open Cosmos is a likely partner for a demo mission slated around the end of December, subject to negotiations with launch providers, following a strategic partnership announced late last year.

Connected announced its pre-seed fundraise Feb. 20, which the venture plans to put toward growing a team of 12 people to 20 as it ramps up to the demo mission.

The venture, and other space-based narrowband players such as Sateliot in nearby Spain, Luxembourg-based OQ Technology, and established global connectivity provider Iridium Communications of the United States point to growing demand for connecting low-power IoT devices in areas without terrestrial cellular coverage.

The number of IoT devices demanding satellite-based connectivity is set to grow from around five million in 2022 to 21 million worldwide by 2026, according to analysts at Berg Insight. 

Like many other space-based IoT providers, Connected ultimately plans to provide connectivity directly to smartphones that move out of sight of a cell tower.

About 80% of the planet lacks mobile cellular coverage, Connected said, leaving more than 450 million people disconnected from the grid.

Early-stage investors FundBox, Shilling VC, and Iberis Capital co-led the funding round, with significant contributions from Amena Ventures, Octopus Ventures, and angel investor Keith Willey.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...