UbiquitiLink tested its first payload in February on a Cygnus launch vehicle. Astronauts attached the UbiquitiLink payload to the nose of a Cygnus capsule before it left the space station with a load of trash. UbiquitiLink tested its technology for five days aboard Cygnus before the capsule burned up in Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA

SAN FRANCISCO – Satellite communications startup UbiquitiLink has raised more than $12 million for its plan to launch a constellation of satellites to extend the reach of terrestrial mobile networks, the Falls Church, Virginia, company announced July 17.

“We are doing something nobody thought was possible: to connect a satellite directly to a phone without any change to the phone,” said Charles Miller, UbiquitiLink CEO and co-founder. “You can be connected anywhere, all the time. It’s the holy grail of connectivity.”

Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Blazar Capital invested $5.25 million in UbiquitiLink’s second seed funding round.

“We have all the funding we need to do the testing and demonstrations,” Miller, a former NASA commercial space advisor and NanoRacks co-founder, told SpaceNews. “After we prove the technology in space we will go to Series A to finance our initial commercial service.”

UbiquitiLink tested its first payload in February on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus launch vehicle. International Space Station astronauts attached the payload to the nose of a Cygnus capsule after it delivered cargo to the space station and before it left with a load of trash. UbiquitiLink tested its technology for five days aboard Cygnus before the capsule burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

UbiquitiLink plans to conduct more extensive testing in August with a hosted payload on another Cygnus. That payload is scheduled to travel to the space station in late July on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

About 750 million of the world’s 5.2 billion cellphone subscribers cannot connect to terrestrial mobile networks at any given time, Miller said in an interview.

“We are building this solution for the 88 million Americans who live in rural areas and lose coverage at the edge of town,” Miller said in a statement. “We are also building this solution for the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have a mobile phone, many because they are not connected where they live and work.”

UbiquitiLink has established relationships with 28 partners, including 21 mobile network operators. Together, those partners serve 1.1 billion mobile network subscribers, Miller said.

Initially, UbiquitiLink plans to offer text message service. “We think that’s the initial killer app,” Miller said. “People are willing to pay for it. We can do internet and other things but people aren’t willing to pay as much on a dollars per bit basis as they are for messaging.”

UbiquitiLink’s payload weighs eight to ten kilograms and its completed satellites will weigh about 25 kilograms, Miller said. The company is building its third, fourth and fifth payloads and the satellites to house them.

By the end of the year, UbiquitiLink plans to launch its first free-flying satellite. The next two satellites are scheduled to launch in the spring of 2020, Miller said.

“UbiquitiLink’s mission of providing everyone, everywhere with mobile connectivity is well aligned with the focus of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed fund,” Steve Case, Revolution CEO and AOL co-founder, said in a statement. “Revolution is excited to invest in technology that is helping to provide global connectivity and is designed to have a significant economic and social impact in rural and remote communities.”

UbiquitiLink’s service has important safety applications, Miller said. The service is designed to give people in remote areas constant access to emergency assistance. With UbiquitiLink’s service, communities also could alert people to natural disasters or re-establish communications in the wake of disasters, he added.

Mark Foster, Blazar Ventures founding partner, said in a statement UbiquitiLink “is poised to unlock the next growth spurt in the now-flat $1 trillion global mobile industry by providing cost-effective connectivity everywhere on the planet.”  Foster previously founded the telecommunications services provider Neustar.

According to its website, UbiquitiLink will have “between 24 and 36 satellites in orbit” in 2021. At that time, the firm will offer customers hourly coverage from 55 degrees north to 55 degrees south latitudes. “With the company’s planned constellation of several thousand satellites by 2023, coverage will be continuous, whether in the middle of the Sahara Desert, the Amazon jungle, or the Pacific Ocean,” according to the website.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...