A Toronto nanosatellite startup with its sights set on the telecommunications market announced it will launch its first satellite from India in November on the same rocket that launched a record number of spacecraft in the country earlier this week.
Kepler Communications Inc. contracted Netherlands-based Innovative Space Logistics to arrange its inaugural mission from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the polar satellite launch vehicle that deployed 104 spacecraft in a single mission on Monday, shattering the Russian Space Agency’s previous record of 37 satellites.
It’s a major milestone for the two-year-old startup that aims to eventually launch the world’s largest constellation of low-Earth orbit nanosatellites for use in telecommunications.
“In the most basic sense, we’re putting up cell phone towers in space that can pick up signals from on the ground and from assets in space,” Kepler CEO Mina Mitry said Thursday.
Mitry, who left the PHd program at the University of Toronto to focus on Kepler, has raised US $5 million thus far to develop the technology that’s essentially a miniature version of a satellite transponder and antenna.
“A typical satellite would, for perspective, be the size of a bachelor apartment in the downtown Toronto area. Our spacecraft are about the size of a loaf of bread,” he said.
A nanosatellite launch costs between US$200,000 and US$300,000, one hundredth of the cost of a standard launch, Mitry said. Once the nanosatellite is in orbit, it will operate in the Ku-band, a spectrum used largely for satellite Internet and television.
Initial customers will test the technology to prove that it works, Mitry said. The early adopters are in the fishing, marine and scientific industries, Mitry said, though he wouldn’t divulge names.
“Initially (the nanosatellites) will be for providing connectivity in hard-to-reach places,” he said. “But as we see the network scaling, it could eventually scale to become a very viable solution across the world.”
The business will scale, depending on customer demand, by launching more satellites. Kepler is in late-stage negotiations to launch a second spacecraft and hopes to eventually launch 140 spacecraft. It has applied with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for licensing for the constellation.
One hard to reach place where Kepler expects demand is in Canada’s far north, particularly satellite-dependent Nunavut. Kepler was co-founded by Samer Bishay, who owns Iristel and Ice Wireless. He “absolutely” plans to use the nanosatellites to improve wireless and Internet service in the north.
“What we’re providing is the data pipe basically… with satellite connectivity it helps remote communities where infrastructure like fibre would be very expensive to deploy,” Bishay said.
Since the nanosatellites orbit closer to Earth, he said the service will have lower latency, the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another.
He’s positioning the nascent technology as a way to fulfill the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s target of getting broadband download and upload speeds of 50 Mbps and 10 Mpbs. Bishay, who claims the nanosatellites can deliver speeds of 500 Mbps, said Kepler intends to apply for funding from the CRTC’s $750-million broadband fund once the regulator sorts out the details.
“You can imagine all the collaboration we can bring to the north form e-learning, to tele-health, to any type of app that doesn’t just require high speeds but also low latency,” he said.
But first, Kepler’s nanosatellite technology must prove itself on its inaugural mission. It’s the first Canadian nanosatellite launch, Mitry said.
“It’s very exciting for us and we’re really thrilled to have contracted the right launch vehicle for our purposes,” he said of ISL, which has launched more than 75 satellites in the past decade. “It gives us a level of confidence that when we deploy our larger constellation they’ll be very well suited to do so.”