Bengaluru based spacetech startup Astrogate Labs, which develops optical communication terminals and a ground network for small satellites, has set its sights on the global space equipment market, particularly on building smaller satellites or smallsats.
The company, founded in 2017 by Nitish Singh and Aditya Kedlaya, recently raised an undisclosed amount from returning investors led by Speciale Invest, with micro venture capital firms such as SuprValue, FirstCheque and Anicut Angel fund chipping in.
Astrogate plans to use the fresh capital to put its satellites into space. “We are already talking to a few clients who want to have a large amount of their data downlinked,” Singh told TechCircle.
In terms of revenue, Singh said that Astrogate has been seeing good traction with clients and is looking towards revenues of close to $60-$70 million in the next 4-5 years.
Astrogate raised its seed round in June 2019 from Speciale Invest and used the capital to build its laser communication technologies, including precision pointing, acquisition and tracking systems.
By the second quarter of 2020, it was able to complete the flight qualification tests of its terminal, Astro-link.
“The plan forward is to integrate our Smallsat Optical Downlink Terminal on a 3U nanosatellite and undergo integrated satellite testing in late Q1/early Q2 of 2021,” Singh said.
In the third quarter of 2021, the satellite will be sent to Momentus for integration with their in-space transportation module ‘Vigoride’. This entire stack will then be installed onto the launch vehicle “Space-X Falcon 9” by December 2021.
Astrogate aims to place its 3U nanosatellite into orbit onboard the low earth orbit launch vehicle Space-X Falcon 9. For this, the company has partnered with Santa Clara based Momentous, which will provide the infrastructure for Astrogate’s satellite to work in space. Nanosatellites typically weigh between 1-10 kilograms, according to NASA.
Momentous utilises proprietary technologies such as water plasma propulsion to enable low-cost orbital shuttle and charter services.
The team is currently working on an optical ground terminal, which is undergoing some iteration. For this, Astrogate has partnered with the University of South Australia, where the terminal will be hosted.
“By Dec 2021 the satellite will be put up in a low-earth, sun-synchronous orbit. Post our demonstration mission we are looking forward to setting up commercial optical ground stations with our partners in early 2022,” Singh said.
Astrogate’s business model is to sell these optical communication terminals and a ground network for smallsats. Additionally, it also charges satellite operators with a fee and a recurring downlink fee for the amount of data that is downlinked by clients.
“That is sort of the revenue model and it is very attractive to the small satellite-private economy that is poised to grow by 8x by 2027,” said Singh.
Singh said that satellite systems have a high gestation period and the major costs associated are proving that the satellite works. The company has already built out the satellite hardware this year.
Although the global smallsat space has players such as Irvin, California based Terran Orbital, Italian Sitatel, Israeli Amos among others, Singh is confident about Astrogate’s growth. According to him, the company offers a full stack solution for laser communications which lowers total cost of ownership.
“The market is a bit segmented with some players offering flight terminals and a few others providing only optical ground stations, we provide both flight terminals, ground terminals, which enable an optimized solution,” Singh added.
Over the last decade, the private space ecosystem has seen traction with commercial players trying to build a high-speed communication network. The Low-Earth Orbit or LEO has especially seen an increase in the number of satellites being launched. However, most of the satellites in this segment are the size of a truck and mostly limited to space agencies and the defense sector.
Astrogate aims to change that by building smallsats -- roughly the size of between a shoebox and a backpack -- and smaller terminals to support its functions.
The global space equipment market is estimated to reach $496.7 million by 2027, according to an August 2020 report by French market research firm ReportLinker. Additionally, communications satellites are estimated to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.3% and could be worth $233.9 billion by the end of 2027.
Traditionally, the market has been dominated by large players such as Boeing, BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation and Lockheed Martin among others. Startups across the world are trying to get a foothold in this segment by offering low cost satellites that are easy to deploy.
Usually, RF (radio frequency) transmitters are installed on satellites. Parabolic dishes -- think of those bowl shaped dishes with antennae -- on the earth collect data transmitted from these satellites. However, as the distance increases so does the size of the required parabolic dishes and the need for high power supply.
“For a higher bandwidth solution, we need to utilise laser communication or optical communication, which is what we are inherently developing,” Singh said.
Laser communication systems have been around for a while now and are used by space agencies such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the ESA (European Space Agency). However, space terminals are large and require a lot of investment.
“We have developed a flight hardware that can be installed on a satellite, along with a terminal. We are also building transportation and deploying it across the globe along with certain partnerships,” Singh said.
“Typically RF systems provide 20-30 megabits per second of data transfer, we are able to offer one gigabyte per second,” Singh added.
Also, RF systems have spectrum licensing fees to be paid, which is not necessary for laser communication systems.
The company also hopes to get flight heritage status through the launch late next year.
Space projects are both risky and expensive. In the industry, some of these risks are minimized by the development and management of “heritage” -- or space qualified-- which is a reputational asset founded on technology embedded products and relationships.
Singh is from IIT Kharagpur while Kedlaya is an IIT Guwahati alumnus.