South Korean ground station operator Contec raises Series C round for global expansion

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SEOUL, South Korea — Contec said June 10 that it had raised 61 billion won ($47.3 million) in a Series C funding round to pursue its goal of building a global ground station network and operating its own Earth observation satellites. 

Including 13.6 billion won raised in the two previous funding rounds, the South Korean company has raised 74.6 billion won ( or nearly $58 million) since it was founded in 2015 as a spin-off from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. Contec is planning to go public next year, recently hiring Daeshin Securities to manage the IPO.

The Series C round was led by domestic venture capital Spring Ventures, with six other institutions joining as new investors. It attracted additional funding from three existing investors, Korea Investment Partners, Korean Development Bank and Atinum Investment.

“We are planning to go public next year, without a pre-IPO funding round,” Contec founder and CEO Lee Sung-hee told SpaceNews. “To that end, there are many things we should do with the fund raised this time.”

Lee said the company currently operates six ground stations, including two in South Korea (Seoul and Jeju Island) and four overseas in Ireland, Alaska, Sweden and South Africa. Six more will be operational in Malaysia, Australia, South Korea’s port city of Busan, and Chile by the end of November.

“We aim at operating twelve RF ground stations in 10 locations around the world by the end of the year,” the chief executive said. “We will build three more in 2023, each in Portugal, Mexico and Southeast Asia. That means we will operate 15 [radio-frequency]ground stations by the end of 2023.”

Lee said the company will also operate three optical ground stations by 2024. “The first optical ground station will be operational in Australia by November 2023. A contract for this has already been signed,” he said. “We will build two more in 2024, one in the Middle East and the other in the United States. While it’s not decided where to put it in the U.S., there are candidates: Texas, Colorado or New Mexico.”

Contec projects rapidly increasing demand for optical ground stations as more satellites adopt laser links as the primary means for communicating with ground stations.

Space situational awareness is another market the company is planning to tap.  Lee said Contec will go into SSA services next year. To that end, Contec will install a cluster of four telescopes in an undisclosed location next year and two more the following year.

On top of this, Contec is planning to develop and operate its own fleet of Earth observation satellites. Lee said the company would soon sign a contract with a European satellite maker to jointly develop a synthetic-aperture radar satellite capable of producing 50-centimeter-resolution imagery. 

“We will proceed with development as efficiently as possible in order to launch the [synthetic aperture radar] satellite in the third or fourth quarter of 2023,” Lee said. “Then we will develop and launch one more.” 

Meanwhile, Contec’s first electro-optical satellite is set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2023 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, according to the chief executive. Contec contracted in 2021 with U.S. smallsat mission integrator NanoAvionics for a 16-unit cubsesat bus will carry a Contec laser communications terminal and a 1.5-meter-resolution imager supplied by South Africa’s Simera Sense.