Astranis, the San Francisco-based satellite internet startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator and other Silicon Valley venture capitalists, announced Monday that SpaceX will launch the company’s first commercial satellite in the fourth quarter of 2020. The satellite will exclusively service the company’s contract with Alaska-based Pacific Dataport, and begin providing that service in 2021.
“It’s a major milestone for the company,” says Astranis CEO and cofounder John Gedmark. “We’re one step closer to having our first commercial satellite up and solving this problem of internet connectivity.”
Astranis is one of many satellite internet startups that have emerged over the past few years, but differentiates from the competition in its approach to satellite internet coverage. SpaceX and OneWeb, among others, are developing constellations of hundreds of small, inexpensive satellites for low Earth orbit, in contrast to traditional telecommunications satellites, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and are placed in geosynchronous orbit.
Astranis splits the difference – taking advantage of advances in technology to build a satellite that’s smaller and hundreds of millions of dollars less expensive – while putting those satellites in geosynchronous orbit to help provide connectivity where it’s currently lacking.
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This may prove to be a good market opportunity for both Astranis and regional telecommunications companies, notes a February report from analyst firm Quilty Analytics: “The emergence of ‘micro GEO’ platforms finally gives regional service providers like Pacific Dataport the opportunity to ‘take matters into their own hands’ by procuring highly-tailored capacity for their customers.”
Once operational, Astranis’ satellite will provide over 7.5 Gbps of bandwidth capacity for Pacific Dataport, which will provide “tens of millions of dollars” in revenue for Astranis over the lifetime of the satellite, according to Gedmark. It will also be a benefit for Alaskans, where an estimated 20% of the population currently has no access to broadband internet.
The Astranis satellite will hitch a ride with a larger satellite on a Falcon 9 launch at a currently unspecified date in the fourth quarter of 2020. At less than 800 pounds, the satellite is too small to be the primary mission for the launch. There are currently a number of rocket companies vying for the business of small satellite launches like this one, but Gedmark says that his company chose SpaceX for a “combination of factors” including timing and price.
“They have been a great partner to work with overall as we’ve been talking about these launch opportunities,” he says.