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Radar love: Echodyne attracts $135M in new funding

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Echodyne, the radar platform company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is announcing its biggest influx of funding to date: a $135 million round co-led by Gates and Baillie Gifford, a high-profile investment management firm based in Scotland.

Other investors include Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and Vulcan Capital, as well as Northrop Grumman, NEA and Vanedge Capital. Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg said the newly announced round brings total investment to $195 million, which makes the trend line for the eight-year-old company’s fundraising efforts look like a hockey stick.

“It’s the hockey stick on the raise, and we hope it’s the hockey stick on the growth of the company,” Frankenberg told me.

Echodyne is one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials — a type of electronic array that makes it possible to “steer” a flat-panel antenna without moving parts. Frankenberg’s company focuses on compact radar systems that can track drones and other aircraft, or can be installed on drones or autonomous vehicles.

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Kymeta and OneWeb strike deal on satellite broadband

Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp., the mobile connectivity company backed by Bill Gates, has signed a distribution partner agreement with OneWeb to offer satellite broadband services around the globe.

The agreement clears the way for Kymeta to resell OneWeb services in conjunction with fixed-site and mobile hardware solutions to government and commercial customers globally.

Today’s announcement comes as Kymeta sharpens its focus on commercial, government and military customers — and as OneWeb copes with challenges related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Just three months ago, the two companies agreed to adapt Kymeta’s u8 flat-panel antenna system to support communications with OneWeb’s satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, or LEO, with an eye toward bringing the system to market by the end of this year.

But that was before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, setting off a cascade of economic sanctions and broken business ties. Russia’s Soyuz rockets, which have launched all 428 of the OneWeb satellites currently in orbit, are no longer an option. This month, Russia canceled a scheduled launch and seized 36 of OneWeb’s satellites when the venture refused to change its British-Indian ownership structure and guarantee that the satellites wouldn’t be used for military purposes.

This week, OneWeb announced a deal to have future satellites launched on SpaceX’s rockets. That deal is unusual, because OneWeb’s broadband service is arguably a competitor for SpaceX’s Starlink service. Starlink is already available in selected markets — including Ukraine — while OneWeb hasn’t yet begun service.

In today’s announcement, Kymeta and OneWeb talked up the promise of satellite-based mobile connectivity.

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RBC Signals and Inmarsat boost the Internet of Things

Redmond-based RBC Signals has made a strategic agreement with one of the world’s biggest satellite operators, Inmarsat, to put more networking firepower into its range of Internet of Things applications for enterprise customers.

The agreement, announced today in conjunction with the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris, pairs Inmarsat’s worldwide ELERA and Global Xpress satellite networks with RBC Signals’ ground-based infrastructure for applications that include oil and gas, maritime traffic management, agriculture and utilities.

RBC Signals will be able to scale its use of Inmarsat’s connectivity dynamically to match shifting needs for spectrum, power levels and geographical reach. Internet of Things applications, and particularly industrial IoT applications, are a “significant growth area for RBC Signals,” company founder and CEO Christopher Richins said in a news release.

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Companies join forces on orbital communications

Two Seattle-area space companies have forged an alliance to facilitate space-to-ground communications for orbital transfer vehicles.

Under the terms of a ground station service agreement, Redmond, Wash.-based RBC Signals will support ground-based communications for multiple missions involving Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s Sherpa orbital tugs.

The deal came into play during the successful deployment of satellites from Spaceflight’s Sherpa-LTE1 transfer vehicle, which was sent into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in June.

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Kymeta hooks up with OneWeb’s internet satellites

Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp., the mobile connectivity company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has joined forces with OneWeb to test satellite broadband services that make use of Kymeta’s u8 flat-panel antenna system.

“I’m very happy to report back that the tests were fantastic,” Neville Meijers, Kymeta’s chief strategy and marketing officer, told me. “Both sets of management were extremely pleased with the performance of the antenna.”

Meijers said that the tests of satellite acquisition, tracking and throughput — conducted in July in Toulouse, France — should bode well for providing always-there mobile connectivity for first responders as well as for government, military and enterprise customers.

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Space startups should be wary of foreign entanglements

Warnings about the potential perils of foreign alliances go back to George Washington’s Farewell Address — but in the Space Age, the issues surrounding international relations are much more nuanced.

At least that’s the view from Christopher Richins, the founder and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based RBC Signals.

RBC Signals acts as a broker for global satellite connectivity services, and counts the U.S. government among its customers. But because RBC’s business model relies on partnerships with satellite ground stations around the world, RBC has to work with countries that the U.S. government views as rivals on the space frontier — specifically, Russia and China.

“You don’t have to have the U.S. government as a customer,” Richins told GeekWire. “But if you do intend to at some point, being mindful of things like cybersecurity and management structure, knowing your customers and knowing your investors — all of those things will serve you well in removing some of the potential barriers to entry for getting those opportunities.”

The troubles encountered by Momentus Space, one of RBC Signals’ customers, serve as a cautionary tale. The space-tug startup’s planned merger with a blank-check company, Stable Road Acquisition Corp., has been held up because of U.S. government concerns about Momentus’ Russian co-founders. Moreover, Momentus’ plans for its first launch have been stymied by the Federal Aviation Administration for similar reasons.

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RBC Signals gets set for satellite data boom

Redmond, Wash.-based RBC Signals says it’s closed on a $1.2 million funding round that’s meant to put the venture in position to meet the growing demand for satellite ground station services.

“One of the primary things we’re doing is positioning ourselves for the future,” RBC Signals’ founder and CEO, Christopher Richins, told GeekWire today. “We already see an uptick in demand.”

Richins said the newly reported equity round, which he characterized as a “late seed round,” brings the six-year-old startup’s total investment to $3.2 million. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says 15 investors took part in the round.

Richins declined to identify individual investors, but he said the round included new capital as well as debt conversions that are primarily aimed at structuring foreign investment to satisfy anticipated U.S. government requirements.

RBC Signals has agreements to use more than 80 antennas at more than 50 locations in more than 20 countries to communicate with orbiting satellites. Most of those agreements take advantage of spare bandwidth for data delivery.

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Satellite link tested in the Arctic’s deep freeze

Kymeta Corp. — the hybrid connectivity venture that’s based in Redmond, Wash. — says it has demonstrated how its flat-panel antenna can hook up with Kepler Communications’ satellite constellation for high-speed data transfers under the chilliest of circumstances.

It’s the latest team-up between Kymeta, which counts Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates among its backers; and Kepler, a Canadian space startup that graduated from the Techstars Seattle incubator program back in 2016.

Kepler is one of several companies that are putting satellites into low Earth orbit, or LEO — a group that also includes SpaceX and OneWeb, plus Amazon’s yet-to-be-launched Project Kuiper constellation.

Those other companies are focusing on consumer and enterprise internet access. In contrast, Kepler is concentrating on satellite-based, high-capacity networking for smart devices that make use of the Internet of Things. One of its leading products is called the Global Data Service.

Over the past winter, Kepler put Kymeta’s next-generation u8 satellite-cellular data service to the test in the Canadian Arctic community of Inuvik, where temperatures can drop to tens of degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Today the two companies announced that the cold-weather test was a success.

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Antenna venture gets a $30M boost from Korea

Hanwha Systems, a smart-technology company headquartered in South Korea, has agreed to make an $30 million investment in Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp. — with an eye toward getting a foothold in the market for antennas capable of linking up with satellite constellations in low Earth orbit.

The equity investment deal follows up on an $85 million funding round led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in August. Gates has backed Kymeta since its launch as a next-generation antenna venture in 2012.

Kymeta is in the midst of the commercial rollout for its latest connectivity offering, a hybrid cellular-satellite broadband service known as Kymeta Connect.

The service relies on an innovative flat-panel antenna called the u8. Metamaterial-based electronics allow Kymeta’s antenna to lock onto satellites without the need for moving parts.

Kymeta Connect currently takes advantage of satellites in geostationary Earth orbit, or GEO. But its system can be upgraded for compatibility with the broadband satellite constellations that are taking shape in low Earth orbit, or LEO — including OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s future Project Kuiper constellation.

That meshes perfectly with the plans being laid by Hanwha, a global conglomerate involved in industries ranging from telecommunications to aerospace and finance. Hanwha Systems Co. focuses on smart technologies in defense electronics and information infrastructure.

“The objective of our investment in Kymeta is to enter the LEO satellite antenna market early on, and diversify our technology portfolio,” Youn Chul Kim, CEO of Hanwha Systems Co., said in a news release. “With the expertise of HSC’s top-notch defense communication and radar technologies, we are joining hands with this promising U.S. satellite antenna company. All these efforts will further strengthen HSC’s aerospace systems capabilities.”

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Amazon’s Project Kuiper shows off satellite antennas

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet said when it’ll start launching satellites or providing broadband internet access from above, but it is sharing details about how customers will get their data.

The $10 billion project, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit, will use an innovative type of phased-array antenna that overlays one set of tiny elements on top of another set, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band,” the company said.

Amazon says the innovation should result in a lightweight, low-cost customer terminal with an antenna that’s only 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. The hardware is being developed primarily at Project Kuiper’s research and development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased-array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal.”