Astranis has successfully tested its low-cost satellite technology to connect to the Internet

What happened now? Astranis is a relatively small space company headquartered in San Francisco, California whose mission is to provide proper internet connectivity in underserved areas. The first Astranis satellite is already in space and the technology is working as expected, so the company is planning further launches.

Astranis satellites are based on proprietary technology and are relatively small and inexpensive compared to satellites from other space companies such as SpaceX. The company’s “next generation” design weighs only 400 kg and uses a proprietary software-defined radio payload.

The 1 meter by 1 meter satellite is designed to operate in geostationary orbit, which means that the spacecraft follows the direction of the Earth’s rotation and appears stationary to ground observers. Astranis launched its first Arcturus satellite earlier this month aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket. A few hours later, the payload was successfully launched into orbit, spreading its “wings” (i.e. solar panels) and reflectors.

Astranis then managed to take control of the satellite, send commands and updates to the flight control software (because not even space can save you from a mandatory software update), and adjust the satellite’s orbit to place it in a geostationary position over Alaska.

Arcturus was able to connect to an internet gateway in Utah before connecting to user terminals in Alaska, where Astranis will provide high-speed bandwidth to local ISP Pacific Dataport. Everything went more smoothly than expected, Astranis says, and Arcturus now serves as a living demonstration that the company’s small satellite technology can work and survive in the harsh environment of space.

Compared to global networks of internet satellites such as SpaceX’s Starlink or the European Union-funded IRIS² initiative, Astranis does business on a per-customer basis, serving one region of the planet at a time. The company has already built four other low-cost satellites to meet the connectivity needs of a customer in Peru, an airline Wi-Fi (with two spacecraft) and another “unspecified” customer.

Four satellites are due to launch as part of a dedicated Falcon 9 mission later this summer or early fall, but Astranis is already considering ambitious plans for the future. The company, which has raised $550 million in funding and hired a team of 300, wants to expand production to assemble two satellites a month and then launch dozens and “hundreds” of satellites into space.

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