Small GEO communications constellation builder and operator Astranis intends to keep geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellites competitive.
As lower-latency low Earth orbit (LEO) communications constellations come online in the coming years, GEO high throughput satellites will account for an ever-decreasing percentage of total satcom capacity, according to a recent Euroconsult report. By 2026, non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) broadband constellations will account for 90% of capacity as measured in terabits per second (Tbps), according to the report.
There has been “tech coming out of LEO, but not a lot of innovation in GEO,” Michael Mancini, chief financial officer of Astranis, said last week at the first Jefferies Virtual Space Summit. Referencing the company’s founders – CEO John Gedmark and Chief Technology Officer Ryan McLinko – Mancini added, “They said, ‘Look, we think we think that Silicon Valley-type mentality needs to come to GEO. It’s a super important orbit, always has been, always will be, but the innovation has been slow.’”
Innovations such as software-defined radios and software-defined satellites allow the company to tailor its offerings to its customers, which include internet service providers and other satellite communications operators such as Anuvu.
A custom GEO satellite
While Astranis has not stated its pricing publicly, the company recently offered a customer in Peru a price that was about a third of what they were paying for capacity from other operators, Mancini said. “I think we’re cutting out a lot of fat, both in time to market and in cost.
“Our model is a lease model – we sell bandwidth,” Mancini said. “But we’re an integrated OEM and operator, so we can go to a local [internet service provider, Grupo Andesat], in a country like Peru, and give them their own satellite and say, for a small down payment plus a contract, you can have a Peruvian satellite that is dedicated to Peru and can facilitate your tower rollout and getting more people online.”
That price was achieved with the company’s first-generation technology for its first four satellites, and innovation will drive further cuts in costs and prices, Mancini added. The satellites have a capacity of eight to 12 gigabits per second, he said.
“Sometimes, in emerging markets, we will take risk alongside our customers so we’ll [charge] a fixed fee and [then] do a revenue share with you,” Mancini said. “And we usually make more than full contract value from revenue share from taking risk.”
The company earlier this month signed a contract with SpaceX for a single dedicated Falcon 9 to launch four MicroGEO satellites in 2023.
“Buying an entire dedicated launch is a huge de-risker for us,” said Astranis’ Gedmark in a statement at the time. “We’re able to control our own destiny here, from a scheduling standpoint. We’re also getting an impressive amount of extra performance, getting us closer to our intended orbit and delivering service to our customers much sooner.”
The future is services
Satellite broadband capacity is expected to grow to more than 60 Tbps by 2026, leading to declining unit prices, according to Euroconsult’s report. Starlink alone increased global capacity by 350% in 2021, the report said.
Operators are “moving towards end-user services as a means to combat expectations of intensifying pricing pressure,” according to the report.
Astranis raised $250 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion in April 2021, with BlackRock (NYSE: BLK) leading the round.
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