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Astranis satellite internet raises $250 million from BlackRock, others

The company’s first commercial satellite.

Astranis

Astranis, a San Francisco-based company with an alternative approach to providing Internet access from satellites, has secured new funding to increase production.

The company raised $ 250 million at a valuation of $ 1.4 billion, Astranis CEO John Gedmark told CNBC, in a circle led by BlackRock and joined by new investors Baillie Gifford, Fidelity, Koch Strategic Platforms, Monashee Investment Management and Uncorrelated Ventures.

More than a dozen existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz and Venrock, also contributed. The new round brings Astranis’ total funding to more than $ 350 million since its founding in 2015.

“This is our circle of growth. This is what allows us to scale the production of our satellite platform. We have developed the satellite – we are building our first [commercial] one while we talk, ”Hedmark said.

Co-founders of Astranis: CEO John Gedmark, left, and CTO Ryan McLinko.

Andy Strong / Strong Photo with the kind assistance of Astranis

The Astranis approach has a small form factor satellite similar to the spacecraft of Starlink on SpaceX, combined with patented technology and placed in geosynchronous orbit, the location of operation of existing players as Viasat.

The company released a prototype in 2018 and is now completing work on its first commercial satellite to launch a SpaceX rocket in the fourth quarter.

The satellite will be located over Alaska, where Astranis’ first customer, telecommunications service provider Pacific Dataport, will use it to triple the speed of data available to people across the state, starting in the first quarter of 2022.

“Putting a focused beam on the Internet, right in a smaller or medium-sized area of ​​the country, just isn’t something that ever existed before,” Gedmark said.

Animation of the satellite broadband coverage area over Alaska.

Astranis

Astranis has about 120 employees. In addition to production, Gedmark says the capital will help Astranis hire “very substantially.”

“We just saw a huge demand. … We have working projects in countries around the world to carry special satellites for specific customers,” he said.

The company’s technical advisory board, chaired by former NASA administrator Dan Goldin, has also given Astranis “a lot of life experience to rely on” and a focus on “what types of technology really drive the needle,” Gedmark said.

Personalized approach

Engineers testing the design of the company’s satellite dish.

Astranis

Astranis satellites, weighing 350 kilograms, are almost dishwasher-sized. The satellites are in geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles from the planet’s surface, a position that allows the spacecraft to remain above a fixed location corresponding to the Earth’s rotation.

Gedmark said traditional geosynchronous satellites are about 20 times larger, cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, and “often take four or five years to build.”

Astranis “had to solve a number of challenges to pack so many strikes into a small package,” he said, with survival in the harsh radiation environment of this distant orbit being the biggest obstacle.

Another key element of Astranis satellites is the software-defined radio technology that Hedmark notes is used primarily for US military satellites.

The software-defined radio allows Astranis to digitally tune communication satellites to different frequencies, while traditional satellites are “purely analog” with “locked” frequencies, he added.

Testing of software-defined radio technology.

Astranis

Astranis satellites can then be “effectively identical” but have accumulated frequencies after reaching orbit.

“You can not only make changes in movement to adapt to changing market conditions … [but also] add a little extra capacity, “Hedmark said.

1 trillion Dollar market opportunity

Falcon 9 missiles launch the Starlink mission on April 7, 2021.

SpaceX

Hedmark says Astranis has a pipeline to search for “dozens” of satellites because it sees “absolutely insatiable” bandwidth demand around the world as a “trillion-dollar market opportunity.”

Satellite communications are becoming increasingly crowded, especially with numerous projects to launch thousands of satellites into low Earth orbit. In addition to SpaceX’s Starlink, which has more than 1,300 satellites in orbit, competing global networks include OneWeb,, Amazons Kuiper project,, Telesat, and Lockheed Martin Omnispace partner.

But Hedmark doesn’t worry.

“Astranis, like all our peers, can put everything in the sky that we can build and launch – and still not completely solve this problem by providing broadband to people,” he said.

His company sells its bandwidth to telecommunications companies and Internet service providers. Then, Hedmark said, “it’s up to them how they want to cut and slice that volume of capacity and determine it for their customers.” He said Astranis had not seen its terrestrial partners sell more of the service, especially given that “in some of these countries there are so many that a consumer is really able or willing to pay.”

“To fulfill our mission of getting the next 4 billion people online, we will have to reduce satellite capacity to a price far lower than the historical one,” Gedmark said. “I think at least in the markets we serve, people are very closely connected to do that.”

Increase in production

Timelapse of the company building its first commercial satellite.

Astranis

Astranis will use its new capital to expand its production space to more than 100,000 square meters to speed up production.

The planned production line is key to the company’s goal of speeding up the production process after its first satellite, which Hedmark said it would take about a year and a half.

“We are very confident that we can reduce the construction time to just a few months,” Gedmark said.

As Astranis launches its first commercial satellite with SpaceX, Hedmark said the company is now in talks with “all major launch providers” about future missions.

“We designed our satellites from day one to be compatible with any large launch vehicle, so we can fly like any of the larger rockets that are there, as well as some of the newer smaller launch vehicles.” , he said.

C a number of space companies recently announced plans to raise capital through public distribution through SPAC mergersHedmark said Astranis was looking at SPAC as an option for this round.

A SPAC or special purpose acquisition company is a shell company that raises money from investors through an initial public offering and then uses the capital to buy a private company and take it public, usually within two years.

So far, “raising funding in private markets in this amount has been the right move,” Gedmark said, but the IPO is still in Astranis’ plans.

“The market is so huge and to deal with it completely, we will almost certainly return to the capital markets,” he said. “Publicing is a great way to do that.”

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