Why All The Satellites?

Low Orbit Satellite Investment Making Rounds

More and more tech firms are trying to get their satellites into orbit. Modern satellite technology can do so much more than make phone-calls or watch TV, you can navigate, track crime, and even provide internet access.

Satellites used to weigh 100s of kilograms, and only those with huge financial backing could afford to send them into outer space as a result of the monstrous pay-load costs. However, as they have become lighter and smaller, there has been a rush of innovation as smaller firms start to figure out what they could do with a satellite in orbit!

Private space travel firms such as Vector Space, Rocket Lab, and Virgin Galactic have made significant advances in smaller and light rockets over the past number of years, and now they are starting to become financially attractive to smaller firms. Prior to this, companies wanting to put small satellites into a low-earth orbit were forced to tag along with bigger rockets and satellites, and had to wait for their timetable for launch – which could mean a 12-18 month wait at times. This, according to Tim Fernholz of Quartz, is simply not acceptable:

These big guys are based around an economic model of putting really huge, heavy satellites very high up in the air. And so this new business model of having a lot of tiny satellites pretty low in space just doesn’t jive, and [the small satellites] end up tagging along on these missions up to space… They don’t get to pick how they launch. … They also have to wait 14 months, 18 months to get up into space, which if you’re a Silicon Valley person and you want to iterate, and you want to break things and fail fast, 18 months is an eternity.

However, with firms like Vector Space (which has been recently bought by Matt Keezer and Momentum Ventures) now offering an alternative to these long waits, low orbit satellites are within reach for any tech firm with a little financial capital!

Elon Musk has even requested permission from the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) to launch a 4000 strong army of satellites into orbit. His plan is provide internet globally through this web of low-orbit satellites, although he isn’t the first entrepreneur to have the same idea. Greg Wyler, founder of OneNet, with backing from Virgin Group, is vying to create a similar satellite network, and could have the upper hand as he currently owns a substantial portion of the licensing to supply satellite internet in various regions around the world.

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have also been trying their hand at launching internet satellites, when they attempted to launch their Internet.org satellite into low-orbit to create a free global internet. However, the SpaceX rocket malfunctioned during a test and the satellite was destroyed – although they have not abandoned the plans, it is now unclear as to when/how they will pursue their target of providing a truly global internet.

Low-orbit satellites are likely to be the next frontier for both the tech community and the commercial space-race, and firms like Vector Space and Virgin Galactic are perfectly poised to take advantage of it.

By Josh Hamilton

Rusty Chapin

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