Published: Saturday, 30 October 2021 00:55
OPS-SAT was the world's first mission dedicated exclusively to testing innovative operations technology in orbit, according to the European Space Agency. Credit: ESA
TAMPA, Fla. — Exodus Orbitals, a startup developing software enabling customers to upload and run applications from orbit, is in talks about leasing satellites as plans to launch its own are delayed seven months to October 2022.
The venture is adjusting its strategy to speed up the start of commercial operations as it seeks to secure its first funding round, according to Exodus Orbitals founder and CEO Dennis Silin.
“The launch delay [is] independent from our finances,” Silin said.
“We received notice of launch date change from our mission service provider and while it doesn’t impact our plans negatively, we still need to adjust them for a different date.”
Silin, a software developer who founded Exodus Orbitals in Canada in 2019 as a first-generation immigrant 15 years prior, said his team made its first cross-border trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S. in early October to meet potential investors.
The venture is looking to raise $1.5 million to fund its inaugural satellite, and company operations that now involve leasing capacity on other smallsats.
“There are already some satellite operators that can support third-party software apps to run on their current satellites in orbit, without any extra hardware modifications required,” Silin told SpaceNews.
“Other satellite vendors we have talked to can support this model of operations on their next generation of satellites, to be launched in the coming years.”
The Canadian venture said in June it successfully flight-tested computer code needed to run its open platform on OPS-SAT, the European Space Agency cubesat serving as an on-orbit test bed for advanced software-driven capabilities.
Unlike traditional “bent pipe” spacecraft, software-defined satellites are reprogrammable in orbit to give operators the flexibility to respond to shifts in demand, as well as opening up new business models like the “AppStore in Space” Exodus Orbitals intends to create.
Offering customers an in-orbit platform for software flight-testing and flight-qualification is an “immediate business case” for the venture, according to Silin.
However, he sees a bigger business opportunity from enabling software developers worldwide to create applications that can run directly on the satellite’s onboard computer.
Exodus Orbitals has chosen an undisclosed U.S. partner to build a satellite that scales up OPS-SAT’s capabilities for the commercial market, as well as a launch provider.
Despite the 3U cubesat being smaller than the satellite Exodus Orbitals is planning, Silin said the ESA spacecraft can support “hundreds of different software applications”, including 10-20 he believes have immediate commercial use cases. These range from space debris detection to data compression and error correction protocols.
“Even with our first mission we plan to offer better instruments than available on [ESA’s OPS-SAT] mission,” he said.
Silin said its manufacturing contract is “on standby” until the venture closes the ongoing funding round, and the company is also holding off leasing a satellite until it raises at least some new capital.
“We don’t need to fully close the funding round to sign any lease contracts, but a certain threshold has to be reached,” he added.
He said the pre-seed funding it secured from Australian business incubator Moonshot is primarily funding the venture’s current software development work, which does not require a satellite in orbit.
“[The] satellite mission is also a rather small part of our expenses,” Silin said via email.
“Once we commit the funds, the project will restart immediately (same week).”
In the meantime, Silin said new applications are under development for the Exodus Orbitals platform in partnership with the Lady Rocket Foundation, a public charity that runs a series of entrepreneurial space initiatives: Zuma, which aims to provide firefighters and police in California with affordable access to high-resolution optical imagery, and a wildlife-tracking service called Satellite Rhino.
Being able to run multiple, hyperlocal satellite applications simultaneously is also a key advantage for the platform Exodus Orbitals is developing, Silin added.
A new SaaS alliance
Exodus Orbitals is also forming a work group to promote the satellite-as-a-service concept, and define common technical specifications among industry players.
Called Edge Computing in Space Alliance, members so far include: Copernic Space, Exo-Space, Modularity Space, Orbital Transports, Spiral Blue, LEOcloud, SkyWatch and OrbitsEdge — in addition to Exodus Orbitals.
Although there are a growing number of space startups with satellite-as-a-service business models, Silin said the concept still needs “considerable efforts in promotion and education about its current and future capabilities to both potential customers and investors.”
He said the work group also aims to foster more collaboration and information sharing between its members, borrowing an approach seen in the IT industry.
“The space industry is a lot more secretive than the software sector, and that limits its potential for growth and breakthrough innovations,” he added.
“I want this obstacle removed as much as possible, at least for the ‘Edge Computing in Space’ niche.”
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