“In the next 20 years, I predict […] more than 10,000 operational satellites in orbit,” says Naomi Kurahara. That’s a bold claim seeing as there are around 1,500 right now.
“Those satellites will be used for data services, communication, positioning systems, as well as other functions. By that time, I think we’ll have people living and working on Mars and the Moon, and satellites will play a large role in communication between the Earth and those bases,” she adds.
The first-time entrepreneur is a graduate of France’s International Space University, which only takes in around 200 students each year.
“At that time, I was a masters student in Japan, and ISU gave me the chance to talk and discuss space with people from all over the world,” explains Kurahara.
Seeing how satellites were about to become even more critical, it was there that she got the idea for her #startup.
“Very simply, I wanted to make a ground station antenna network service. I didn’t think I would be able to do this in existing private sector businesses or academia, so I decided that creating a startup was the fastest and most effective way of accomplishing my goal,” Kurahara tells Tech in Asia.
The result is Infostellar, a kinda sorta Airbnb for satellites in which antenna owners rent out spare capacity to satellite operators. And just like Airbnb takes a cut from your stays at someone’s house, Kurahara’s startup pockets a slice of each space hook-up it enables.
Beam me down, Scotty
By tapping into antenna here on Earth only when needed, the idea is that it lowers costs for businesses that rely on satellite transmissions – and also lowers barriers for new firms entering the satellite industry.
“Our main customers are operators of satellite constellations,” she explains. “Some examples of use cases are Earth observation, satellite internet access, S-AIS / ADS-B, M2M IoT networking by small satellite, debris tracking, and government science organization contracts. In other words, anything one would expect from LEO satellite usage.”
LEO means low Earth orbit, with an altitude of 2,000 kilometers or less. It’s the hotspot for the fast-growing commercial space industry, which includes Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Those Airbnb’d antenna are used to beam back a variety of data. “Earth observation companies would primarily be receiving images taken by their satellite, whereas S-AIS / ADS-B companies would be receiving location information of ships or airplanes, respectively,” says the CEO.
The startup’s service is not yet live, with Kurahara aiming at next month for closed beta testing, followed in early 2018 by flipping the switch to make it available to anyone who needs it. It’s made up of a hardware unit fitted onto antennas as well as a web-based dashboard.
The team got a huge boost last week when it secured US$7.3 million in series A funding led by Airbus Ventures, the investment wing set up by the aerospace giant in 2016. Sony Innovation Fund and 500 Startups’ Japan fund were among the five other backers.
“With the burgeoning number of low Earth orbit launches and the fast-evolving criticality of data from space, supporting ground station networks are becoming hard pressed to keep up with satellite data demands despite the irony that much of the time ground station antennas stand idle while other people’s satellites pass overhead,” says Dr. Lewis Pinault from Airbus Ventures.