AST & Science has already started in-house production of its first satellites and has begun talking with launch providers. The company is currently building its satellites in an 85,000 square-foot facility at the Midland Air and Space Port in western Texas
Fremont, CA: Texas-based AST & Science raised USD 128 million in a Series B round of financing for its constellation project. The round was co-led by Japanese online shopping giant Rakuten and global telecom leader Vodafone, pitching in USD 110 million. The company plans to launch a constellation of hundreds of satellites to create a cellular broadband network that would be directly linked to the people's smartphones. AST & Science founder Abel Avellan, a veteran satellite telecom entrepreneur, was also one of the investors in the Series B round. The round was also participated by Samsung’s investment arm Samsung Next, American Tower Corporation, and media and real estate company Cisneros.
Avellan stated that AST & Science has already started in-house production of its first satellites and has begun talking with launch providers. The company is currently building its satellites in an 85,000 square-foot facility at the Midland Air and Space Port in western Texas. NanoAvionics, a Lithuanian cubesat builder backed by AST & Science, will help build the SpaceMobile constellation. Avellan had formed AST & Science in 2016 shortly after leaving Emerging Markets Communications. In 2018, the company acquired a controlling interest in NanoAvionics, making chairman of the board.
"AST & Science’s immediate focus is starting revenue generation in the next few years with low Earth orbit satellites numbering in the low twenties in an equatorial orbit," Avellan said. "Completely funding those satellites will require additional investment that will consist of equity and debt." However, he declined to share the cost of the full, global constellation.
The company has tied up with rival startup Lynk Global to deploy a satellite constellation that beams connectivity directly to cellular phones. Virginia based Lynk had raised USD 12 million last year to kick off a constellation of thousands of satellites with an initial 30-satellite constellation. Currently, Lynk is testing a communications payload on the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo tug that received permission from the FCC to remain in orbit until April 2.
AST & Science’s demonstration nanosatellite, Bluewalker-1, was launched on an Indian PSLV rocket last April. The nanosat, built by NanoAvionics, proved that it could link directly to cellphones. However, for the operational constellation, the company needs much bigger satellites, larger than the 860-kilogram Iridium Next mobile telephony and data satellites.
“We believe SpaceMobile is uniquely placed to provide universal mobile coverage, further enhancing our leading network across Europe and Africa, especially in rural areas and during a natural or humanitarian disaster, for customers on their existing smartphones,” Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said.
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