Loft Orbital, a new aerospace company based in San Francisco, has raised $3.2 million in seed funding to build a constellation of satellites packed with payloads from various customers. Each satellite could carry up to five instruments from multiple customers. For instance, one university might want to fly an instrument that measures cosmic rays and another might want to take readings of the magnetosphere and those instruments can fly on the same satellite offered by Loft.
Condominiums In Space
This “condominium” model is the brainchild of Antoine de Chassy, Alexander Greenberg and Pierre-Damien Vaujour, all of whom used to work for the nanosatellite provider Spire. They realized that some institutions may not have the cash to build and operate dedicated satellites of their own, but might be willing to lease capacity on somebody else’s satellite that might otherwise go unused.
“We are like the landlord of the apartment building, and our tenants are the different payloads paying us an annual fee. We take a downpayment from each of the customers, which is really just enough to finance the launch and the initial payments on the satellite — some of the upfront costs — and then every year we charge an annual fee,” said Greenberg, who acts as the head of operations for Loft Orbital.
Can Loft Orbital Succeed Where Iridium Prime Failed?
It may be natural to be a little skeptical, considering that the much-anticipated Iridium Prime failed. Although there was interest in leasing space on a satellite, the satellite design did not allow for the efficient addition of payloads. This drove up costs to the point where many organizations decided that they might as well build their own satellite.
Loft Orbital aims to learn from Iridium Prime’s mistakes, as evidenced by the fact that Dave Anhalt, the former general manager of Iridium Prime, has joined the advisory board. Loft Orbital’s satellites will be smaller and sleeker than Iridium Prime, clocking in at 100 to 200 kilograms as opposed to Iridium Prime’s 860 kilograms. By reducing the amount of mass that needs to be launched, the Loft Orbital team aims to bring launch costs down without sacrificing the functionality that would have been possible with Iridium Prime.
The team aims to use off-the-shelf technology and standardized interfaces between the satellite and its payloads to further reduce costs. The actual cost to the customer will depend on the size and power requirements of the payload and each organization will be able to control the payload that it owns.
Greenberg described the planned final product as “the power and capability of a much larger satellite but at the price of a cubesat mission.”
Loft Orbital aims to launch its first satellites in the second half of 2019 and already has three major interested parties. The team says that it plans to use the $3.2 million in seed money for research and development of its condominium satellites.