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Astranis MicroGEO to help bring Connectivity Capacity to Alaska and Beyond

While we have been talking mostly about LEO satellites in the satellite technology related posts on this blog, Astranis, a startup based in Califonia has been designing small geostationary satellites for internet connectivity. Known as MicroGEO, these smaller and more powerful satellites cost a fraction of what traditional geostationary satellites cost. They can be built faster (12-18 months) compared to the traditional large geo satellites (3-4 years) and can bring connectivity to smaller areas quickly. 

Back in 2019, Astranis signed Pacific Dataport Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska, an Alaskan telecommunications provider, as its first customer. The intention is to cover the entire state of Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands, with Ka-band connectivity for broadband, according to officials from Astranis and Pacific Dataport.

Last month Astranis announced $250 million Series C financing round, valuing the company at $1.4 billion. According to the press release:

Astranis is solving one of the largest challenges facing the modern world: reducing the cost of internet access to get the next four billion people online.

The new funding will be used to significantly expand production of Astranis’s unique microsatellite platform, built to satisfy the significant global demand for affordable broadband. Additionally, Astranis will dramatically accelerate new technology research and development to support its next-generation platforms. That includes the company’s proprietary software-defined radio technology, which increases satellite performance and flexibility, and allows manufacturing at scale, lowering the price point to end-consumers.

Astranis’s satellites can be deployed at a low cost and be built in months, not years. That’s in contrast to traditional satellites that require hundreds of millions of dollars of capital and five or more years to get new capacity online. The smaller size of Astranis’s satellites — just 350 kg, or about 20 times less than traditional satellites — and their deployment into geostationary orbit (GEO) allows Astranis to start providing coverage with just a single MicroGEO satellite and bring capacity online quickly, focusing beams of broadband connectivity right where it’s needed.

Astranis is building small, low-cost telecommunications satellites to connect the four billion people who currently do not have access to the internet. Each spacecraft operates from geostationary orbit (GEO) with a next-generation design of only 350 kg, utilizing a proprietary software-defined radio payload. This unique digital payload technology allows frequency and coverage flexibility, as well as maximum use of valuable spectrum. By owning and operating its satellites and offering them to customers as a turnkey solution, Astranis is able to provide bandwidth-as-a-service and unlock previously unreachable markets. This allows Astranis to launch small, dedicated satellites for small and medium-sized countries, Fortune 500 companies, existing satellite operators, and other customers.

Astranis launched a first test satellite into orbit in 2018 and is now underway with its first commercial program—a satellite to provide broadband internet for Alaska that will more than triple the available bandwidth across the state. The satellite is undergoing assembly, integration, and test and is set for a launch later this year.

Here is a promotional video from them:

CNBC has a detailed article on them here.

In the slightly longer video below, Ryan McLinko, Co-founder and CTO at Astranis, shares his experience on how he contributed to the foundation and scale-up of the company. He discusses the novelty of digital architectures of GEO small satellites based on Software Defined Radio technology, and how an innovative startup company can challenge established industrial players in the most revenue-generating sector of the space industry.

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