An artistic depiction of one of three Inmarsat-8 satellites, which will be based on Swissto12's HummingSat platform. Credit: Swissto12

TAMPA, Fla. — Swissto12 has raised about $28 million in debt to scale up a manufacturing business seeking to disrupt the geostationary market with much smaller satellites, the 3D printing specialist said Sept. 13.

Investment bank UBS provided the working capital facility for the venture, which has also raised more than 50 million euros ($54 million) in venture capital funding since spinning out of a Swiss university in 2011.

After initially focusing on 3D-printed radio frequency components, the venture expanded into building entire satellites with the support of the European Space Agency.

While not all of Swissto12’s HummingSat satellite platform would be 3D-printed, the company plans to leverage its expertise in additive manufacturing to accelerate production, cut costs, and improve performance.

HummingSat is about the size of a dishwasher and can be at least three times cheaper than typical commercial telecoms satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO), according to Swissto12, which are typically about 10 times bigger.

The company hopes to meet demand for more localized services with satellites that have less capacity than their school bus-sized cousins, which have more room for transponders and power.

Intelsat became Swissto12’s first customer last year for a HummingSat that recently secured a 2026 launch with Arianespace, alongside undisclosed co-passengers. 

Viasat-owned Inmarsat, which also usually orders much larger GEO satellites from more established manufacturers, said in May it had bought three HummingSats for a launch in 2026.

In a Sept. 13 news release announcing the working capital facility, Swissto12 said it has more than 200 million euros in orders for HummingSats and its radio frequency product business combined. 

New competitive landscape

Of the 10 orders announced so far this year for GEO commercial communications satellites, six are to be built by small satellite ventures, including three by Astranis of California.

Executives from traditional geostationary players cautiously welcomed the market entrants Sept. 12 on a panel of manufacturers at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business conference in Paris.

Chris Banther, vice president of supply chain at Lockheed Martin, said the rise of these small satellite specialists comes as operators seek to diversify their suppliers — a trend he also sees in other areas of the market.

“I think it’s actually pretty exciting,” said Ryan Reid, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, adding during the panel that it is a symptom of how much demand for broadband is outstripping supply. 

“And I think these small GEO systems allow … additional market creation and niche areas at a lower economic risk,” he said.

Stéphane Vesval, senior vice president of sales and marketing for space systems at Airbus Defence and Space, also does not see a shift in the GEO market.

“Yes, [they] are addressing some unmet demand but we’re not seeing a direct impact on how the market is growing,” he said, pointing to its recently announced contract to build a more conventionally sized GEO satellite for Thaicom.

“We are, of course, always careful and looking at the innovation,” Vesval continued, “because even if some other [parts] are not directly competing [with] us, they are also very innovative. It keeps us on the edge and we keep moving forward.”

Marc-Henri Serre, executive vice president for telecoms at Thales Alenia Space, said “clearly there are use [cases] that fit completely with this kind of product,” but the main challenge now “is how to have a product that works, has a good execution, and good delivery.”

He said the industry is only “at the beginning of the story” and is still waiting to see if these products meet objectives. Arcturus, the first satellite from Astranis, failed after launching to orbit in April following an issue with its solar array drive assemblies.

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...