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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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GeekWire

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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Cosmic Space

Space Notes: From satellite deals to a new fellowship

— Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. says it’s signed an agreement with HawkEye 360 to support multiple launches of the Virginia-based company’s radio-frequency mapping satellites.

Spaceflight will provide mission management services for HawkEye 360’s Cluster 4, 5 and 6 launches. Each cluster consists of three 65-pound satellites that fly in formation to gather a wide variety of geolocation tracking data. SpaceX sent HawkEye 360’s first cluster into orbit in 2018 as part of a dedicated-rideshare mission organized by Spaceflight. Cluster 2 is scheduled for launch as soon as December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that’s equipped with Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX orbital transfer vehicle.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is one of several launch vehicles in Spaceflight’s portfolio for rideshare satellite missions. Other rocket offerings include Northrop Grumman’s Antares, Rocket Lab’s Electron, Arianespace’s Vega, Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha and India’s PSLV. Spaceflight has launched more than 300 satellites across 32 rideshare missions to date.

— Seattle-based RBC Signals has been engaged by California-based Swarm Technologies to host ground-based antennas for Swarm’s satellite IoT communications constellation.

The antennas will support Swarm’s next wave of satellites, part of a 150-unit constellation that’s due to go into full operation by the end of 2021. The first antenna included in the agreement has been placed on Alaska’s North Slope and is supporting the latest group of satellites to be deployed. Those 12 satellites, each about the size of a slice of bread, were sent into orbit on Sept. 2 by an Arianespace Vega rocket.

Plans call for additional Swarm antennas to be activated and hosted by RBC Signals in strategic locations around the world. RBC Signals, founded in 2015, takes advantage of company-owned as well as partner-owned antennas to provide communication services to government and commercial satellite operators.

— Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says it has completed a critical design review for its MakerSat payload, which is due to fly aboard a NASA mission aimed at testing in-space servicing and manufacturing technologies in the mid-2020s.

MakerSat will be part of Maxar Technologies’ Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER), one of the payloads attached to NASA’s OSAM-1 spacecraft. (OSAM stands for On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing). SPIDER is designed to assemble a communications antenna in orbit, while MakerSat will manufacture a 32-foot-long, carbon-fiber construction beam.

The project will test techniques for use on future space missions. “MakerSat will demonstrate the manufacturing of the 2-by-4’s that can be used to construct large telescopes for studying exoplanets and to assemble future space stations,” Tethers Unlimited’s founder and president, Rob Hoyt, said in a news release.

— The application window has opened for the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, a new program that offers paid internships in the aerospace industry for Black and African-American college students.

The fellowship program is modeled after the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, which offers summer internships to undergraduate as well as graduate students who are passionate about commercial spaceflight; and the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which focuses on women and gender-minority students in aerospace. (GeekWire participated in the first year of the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program.)

Seattle-area companies participating in the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship Program include Blue Origin, Boeing and Stratolaunch. The program is named after Patti Grace Smith, who was a pioneer in the civil rights movement, became the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for commercial spaceflight, and passed away in 2016 at the age of 68.

Check out the fellowship’s website for eligibility requirements and application procedures. The application deadline for internships in 2021 is Nov. 15.

This report was first published on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

RBC Signals turns to India for space networking

Indian antenna
Vikram Sarabhai Space Center’s 18-meter antenna, located near Bangalore, India, can be used for deep-space communications. (VSSC Photo)

Seattle-based RBC Signals has forged an agreement with Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, to widen its spectrum of communication services for spacecraft operators.

The partnership adds C-band, Ku-band and Ka-band communication capabilities to RBC Signals’ existing resources in the VHF, UHF, S, C and X radio bands. It also extends the company’s potential reach beyond Earth orbit to the moon and deep space.

The pact marks another first for the three-year-old startup. “It represents our first partnership with a national program,” RBC Signals co-founder and CEO Christopher Richins told GeekWire.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

RBC raises $1.5M for satellite data delivery

Satellite dish
RBC Signals knits together a network of antennas at sites around the world. (GSA Illustration)

Seattle-based RBC Signals says it’s raised $1.5 million from investors around the world, providing a boost for its plans to knit together a network of ground stations for receiving satellite data.

The company didn’t provide details about its latest seed-round investors, other than to say they include venture capitalists from the United States, Singapore, the Middle East and China. Previously announced investors include Blacktop Capital and Entrenext Ventures.

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