WASHINGTON — Lacuna Space CEO Rob Spurrett says he’s well aware his 3-year-old startup is part of a cresting wave of Internet of Things ventures seeking to deploy constellations of cubesats to connect a world awash in smart devices.
At least 16 companies are targeting the IoT market with smallsats, according to NSR analyst Alan Crisp, ranging from startups like Fleet and Kepler Communications to heavyweights like Eutelsat.
“Like many other people, we spotted a great opportunity to do IoT with small satellites,” Spurrett said. “The gold rush is on.”
Whether Lacuna Space will rise to the front is still to be determined. But Spurrett believes the company’s emphasis on offering the lowest price service will make it a winner.
“We’ve always been of the view that IoT is going to be a very low-cost application,” he said. “Driving cost out of the system is going to be absolutely critical. If you’re going to win this race, it’s going to be all about who can drive price the lowest.”
To find the lowest cost satellite system, Lacuna Space expects to have launched four different prototypes by the end of the year. The first, a payload that shared a platform with another IoT startup (SpaceWorks Orbital) launched in April aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. NanoAvionics of Lithuania supplied the bus.
A second prototype from British startup In Space Missions is booked to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron mission, Spurrett said. A third from Open Cosmos is scheduled to launch on an Arianespace Soyuz, followed by a fourth prototype from NanoAvionics that will have its own bus and will launch on another PSLV, he said.
Lacuna Space, in contrast to some of its competitors, aims to operate satellites that can directly pick up signals from LoRa-standard IoT sensors instead of having the signals transferred to a dish and amplified to reach space. Spurrett said this approach means Lacuna Space doesn’t have to build custom user terminals, but can rely on already fielded equipment.
The trade-off, Spurrett said, is that Lacuna Space’s satellites will need very sensitive receivers onboard to pick up faint signals from remote, battery powered devices.
Semtech Corp., a Camarillo, California, semiconductor and software company with more than $600 million in net sales, is helping Lacuna Space link LoRa-based devices directly to satellite gateways.
Lacuna Space will trial services with its prototype satellites so that it can decide on a constellation manufacturer in late 2020, Spurrett said.
The startup is building its own payloads, but outsourcing the satellite bus, launch and ground communications to the prototype providers, he said. The company plans to select from prototype builders for the full 32-satellite global constellation and will likely outsource ground communications for the system, he said.
Spurrett said Lacuna Space, which operates out of the U.K.’s Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, is fully funded out to mid-2021. The company plans to start some revenue-generating services in 2020, but will seek to raise about $5.5 million before then to further support its business, he said.
Spurrett declined to say how much capital Lacuna Space has raised to date.
Lacuna Space plans to operate its satellites around 500 to 550 kilometers, he said. Current prototypes suggest the final constellation will use 6U cubesats weighing around 10 kilograms. They will also likely carry propulsion, he said.