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How a nanosatellite the size of a microwave can give mobile coverage to an entire ocean | Business

Sateliot wants to launch 256 nanosatellites into space before 2025 in its race to extend the coverage of mobile operators where they cannot reach with traditional antennas. The Catalan company has just raised a financing round of 10 million, with the support of Indra and Cellnex, and has led the definition of the latest 5G standard for the internet of things. “90% of the planet does not have coverage, 70% are the oceans and the other 20% correspond to 75% of the earth’s surface”, defends the CEO of Sateliot, Jaume Sanpera, who seeks to be an intermediary so that operators of telecommunications can offer the internet connection of sensors in crops, public infrastructures and transport containers located in remote places. The company claims to have pre-commercial agreements with telephone companies —”in Spain we have the main ones”— with a total of 500 million customers.

“In the sector it is said that space is hard,” says Sanpera about the career he has started, which he calculates will mean “an investment of 20 million” before the company’s commercial billing begins, scheduled for 2023. In 2021 , Sateliot entered half a million and expects to double the figure this year. However, the company’s viability plan foresees “exponential” growth: 15 million in 2023 and reaching 1,000 million in cash and 350 in EBITDA in 2025. These are numbers in which, in the last round, they have also entrusted to the English fund Seraphine (specializing in new space) and Evonexus, an accelerator based in San Diego (United States), where Sateliot has opened an office. It also has offices in Malaga.

“It might make sense, but it’s still early days and it will depend on our business strategy and yours,” replies Sanpera, regarding the possibility that in the future Cellnex could absorb his business (of which he already has 3%), since it is the largest neutral operator in terrestrial mobile telephony in Europe and Sateliot is looking for a similar business model that, instead of antennas, will use nanosatellites. Indra has 10% Sateliot. Both companies collaborate to elevate the communication of nanosatellites to the security of defense missions. For now, the start-up de Sanpera only has one satellite in orbit with which it has tested its technology. The Catalan Generalitat has spent half a million euros for a collection service, through the company’s nanosatellite, of data on the humidity and temperature of the subsoil in stations of the Cartographic and Geological Institute of Catalonia (ICGC). Although the satellite used belongs to Sateliot and has other functions, the Generalitat baptized it with the name of Enxaneta.

The same apparatus (which flies over Catalonia twice a day, 1% of the time) is used for two other pilot tests: one that seeks in agricultural operations in Brazil to “increase productivity by 40% with 50% less water”, and another in New Mexico (USA), which, with sensors on a road where there are frequent sandstorms, seeks to be able to act quickly and prevent the road from being cut off.

Sanpera, which with Sateliot adds eight founded companies, refers to Starlink, the company created by Elon Musk, which has already launched 1,300 nanosatellites into space, not without controversy due to the interference they pose to the work of astronomers. The company of the founder of Tesla intends to offer broadband to private customers. Sateliot needs far fewer satellites (fewer orbits of the Earth in total throughout the day), as it seeks the minimum band to collect data from disparate sensors housed in a few centimeter boxes that are powered by a battery that lasts two years. Each sensor costs about five euros.

“When we increase the number of satellites, we will be able to move from agriculture to maritime logistics (2024), which needs data every two hours. In 2025 we will be able to take on land logistics, which needs data every hour”, explains Sanpera, who sees possibilities in the sensors such as monitoring refrigerated containers at sea and controlling whether, for example, packages are being manipulated to introduce illegal substances. The communication system, via radio, has been developed by the Galician company Alén Space: “In order to be the first in the world to do this quickly, we have had to select the best in each field.” Sateliot will launch a second nanosatellite this year, already with the standard approved by 3GPP, in whose definition it has participated. In 2023 it aspires to reach 16; 64 in 2024 and 256 in 2025. Future releases can be made eight at a time.

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Each nanosatellite, with measurements similar to a microwave, costs one million euros and another 200,000 to launch. The devices, which disintegrate in the atmosphere after five years, fly over the Earth at about 500 kilometers from the surface, unlike the traditional ones (at 36,000 kilometers), of the now called old space. Enxaneta was launched in March 2021 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan), which belongs to Russia. “Honestly, we could not imagine that this would happen,” says Sanpera about the war in Ukraine. “Logistics in Russia is very complicated, you have to send the nanosatellite six months before” and the next Sateliot launches were already planned to be done on Elon Musk’s Space X launcher in Florida.

With two registered satellite communication patents, Sateliot currently has 25 employees, which it hopes to double before the end of the year. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has authorized the company to launch 100 nanosatellites. “My dream would be to get the company listed on the Nasdaq,” says Sanpera, who launched his previous company, Eurona Telecom, on the market.

On the challenges of the new technology-based space companies, Sanpera highlights the difficulty in Europe of convincing the venture capital because they have a more conservative view of risk than in the US. He also points out the importance of promoting innovative public investment and sees key bets like his so that Spain can “lead an industry that in 2040 will be worth a trillion”. “If we let it go, it will happen as always: Let them invent!”, He concludes.

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