Contec CEO Lee Sung-hee poses in this undated image.
Contec CEO Lee Sung-hee poses in this undated image. Credit: Contec 

SEOUL, South Korea — Contec, a ground station services provider here, has signed a contract with smallsat mission integrator NanoAvionics for an Earth observation satellite that will launch in the second half of 2023 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. 

Under the deal announced Oct. 27, the U.S.-based NanoAvionics will provide a modular 16U satellite bus that will consist of Contec’s laser communication terminal (LCT) and an integrated imager with 1.5-meter resolution, supplied by South Africa’s Simera Sense.

The deal marks the Korean startup’s effort to diversify its business portfolio ahead of its Series C funding round next year. Contec, established in 2015 as a spin-off from Korea Aerospace Research Institute, raised about 13.6 billion won ($11.47 million) in the two previous funding rounds. Its investors include South Korea’s major lenders such as Shinhan Financial Group, Korea Development Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea and antenna maker Intellian Technologies.

Contec currently operates two ground stations in South Korea (Seoul and Jeju Island) with 10 others under construction — one in South Korea’s port city of Busan and nine in overseas locations, each in Ireland, Alaska, Sweden, Finland, Oman, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia and Latin America. The 10 under-construction facilities will be fully operational no later than July 2022, making a globe-spanning network for efficient delivery of satellite data, according to Contec. 

“We are trying to build an end-to-end satellite infrastructure where we can provide clients with ground station services and satellite imagery pre-processing, as well as satellite imagery applications,” Contec CEO Lee Sung-hee told SpaceNews. “While we have technological capacity to do the first two things [ground station services and satellite imagery pre-processing] on our own, we have had to rely on outsourced satellite images for application services because we have no satellites in orbit. The deal with NanoAvionics was the very first step toward having our own satellites in orbit. Once in orbit, the nanosatellite will enable us to produce customized satellite imagery.”

Images collected by the satellite will be used to detect changes of urban, vegetation, coastal areas and unauthorized construction, just to name a few, according to the CEO. “Some local governments have already shown interest in the service,” he said. 

Lee said Contec will acquire additional EO nanosatellites to strengthen its competitiveness in satellite imagery applications. 

“We will place an order for another nanosatellite next year,” he said. “We can choose NanoAvionics again, but there are other makers under consideration, including domestic satellite startup NARA Space Technology.”

Lee said his company’s long-term mission is having an ability to produce satellites on its own. And NanoAvionics will play a key role in realizing it by sharing its satellite manufacturing technologies with Contec, he said. 

“NanoAvionics is a win-win partner for us,” Lee said. “Contec will learn how to manufacture satellites from NanoAvionics. And in return, we will help NanoAvionics explore business opportunities here. To that end, it’s possible [for the two companies] to establish a joint venture here.” 

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...