Saturn Satellite Networks to acquire NovaWurks for cash, stock

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This article was updated Sept. 9 at 9 pm Central European Time with NovaWurks Founder Talbot Jaeger’s comments.

PARIS – Saturn Satellite Networks, a startup planning to manufacture and delivery small geostationary satellites to customers in orbit, announced plans Sept. 9 to acquire NovaWurks, a California company that has developed modular satellites.

Saturn and Novawurks did not disclose the terms of the transaction. Tom Choi, Saturn co-founder and executive chairman, told SpaceNewsby email that the deal is “well into seven figures in U.S. dollars.”

Saturn, a firm founded by former executives of fleet operator ABS of Bermuda to build Nationsat, a digital platform for small geostationary satellites, signed a definitive agreement to acquire NovaWurks, a company that has conducted demonstrations of its Hyper Integrated Satlets (HISats) including a 2018 spaceflight demonstration for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Saturn plans to acquire NovaWurks over three years for cash and stocks. Once the deal is completed, NovaWurks will become a wholly owned Saturn subsidiary and its shareholders will become minority shareholders of Saturn.

Through the acquisition, Saturn seeks to accelerate its Nationsat program.

“Instead of building a brand new and untested platform, we will use the reliable and proven HISat system to accelerate the development of the Nationsat geostationary Earth orbit system and other medium Earth orbit and low Earth orbit constellation plans being developed at Saturn Satellite Networks,” Tom Choi, Saturn executive chairman, said in a statement.

In the statement, Choi thanked Talbot Jaeger, NovaWurks founder and chief technical architect. “Our limitless ambitions are merged with his unmatched technical genius,” Choi said. “We aim to change and better the world by making affordable space communications services a reality.”

Saturn’s Nationsat is designed for customers who want their own satellite but do not require multi-ton communications satellites. NovaWurks’ HISat will serve as the basis of the Nationsat, which will be built entirely in the United States and feature “fully digital payloads for both wide-beam and High Throughput Satellite applications,” according to the news release.

Saturn is a unit of Airspace Internet Exchange, a Delaware corporation founded by Choi, the firm’s majority shareholder, who the announcement notes is an American citizen. Choi previously founded satellite communications companies Speedcast and ABS Global.

Since it was founded in 2011, NovaWurks has developed HISat and tested the technology in orbit, including a 2018 demonstration for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. NovaWurks also developed HISats for a NASA mission, SIMPL, which stands for Satlet Initial-Mission Proofs and Lessons. NanoRacks deployed SIMPL from the International Space Station in 2017.

“[O]ur testing over the past two years was very successful and our on-orbit operations have proved the HISat technology,” Jaeger said by email.

This acquisition will not deter NovaWurks from selling to HISats to NASA, the U.S. military or any other customers, Jaeger said. “In fact, just the opposite,” he added. “Both Tom Choi of Airspace Internet Exchange and Jim Simpson, CEO of Saturn, are U.S. citizens of U.S. corporations and their business cases involve all sorts of commercial and government customers at LEO, MEO and GEO orbits.”

HISats are identical six-kilogram modules. Each one contains all the basic components satellites need to function, including communications, pointing, power, data processing and propulsion. Software determines the optimum role for the HISats, which snap together like Legos. If one subsystem fails, other HISats in the spacecraft are designed to take over its duties.

“Saturn’s vision and fresh look at the space industry is very akin to the NovaWurks culture we have developed over the past several years,” Jaeger said in a statement. “The resources and energizing passion that Tom Choi and the entire Saturn team bring to NovaWurks is very synergistic to our team and advancing ‘New Space’ and the innovations that NovaWurks is known for. With our goals well aligned, I look forward to better tackling the challenges of our nation and the world.”