Atlassian co-founder and Blackbird back nanosatellite startup Fleet in AU$5m round

Fleet has raised AU$5 million to help support the development and launch of its nanosatellites in Australia.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Fleet has raised AU$5 million in a Series A round led by Blackbird Ventures, with contributions from Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, James Schultz from Earth Space Robotics, and Horizon Partners. The Australian nanosatellite startup had previously raised AU$75,000 in seed funding.

Founded in 2015 by aerospace engineers Flavia Tata Nardini and Dr Matthew Tetlow, and entrepreneur Matt Pearson, Fleet is building nanosatellites to connect sensors and low-bandwidth devices to the internet.

Pearson told ZDNet that the goal is to provide free internet connectivity to devices and sensors that are compatible with the Fleet network, particularly in locations where the "tyranny of distance" is preventing businesses from using devices such as mining plants or farms in rural or regional areas.

"Farmers, environmentalists, mining and oil engineers, and logistics professionals will all greatly benefit from the data and opportunities a switched-on planet produces," Tata Nardini said in a statement.

"Our goal is for industries to use this technology to make real, tangible efficiency improvements to the ways they operate and address issues, be it measuring the effect of climate change on outer corners of the great barrier reef, or tracking important cargo like aid as it journeys across the Indian Ocean."

Tata Nardini said that while the Australian government is creating policies to facilitate innovation, there is very little talk of space.

"Australia is one of the largest economies in the world to not have its own space agency. Projects like this are crucial to our future as they test our creativity and ability to think big. If we're not always asking what's next, we'll never really have a place in the innovation game," she said.

Cannon-Brookes, who has his own VC firm Grok Ventures in addition to backing Blackbird, classified Fleet as one of those "rare" ideas that "gets the adrenaline pumping."

"Fleet answers one of modern society's most difficult but important questions: How do we bring all the devices and technology we've created together to work as one?" Cannon-Brookes said in a statement.

Pearson confirmed Fleet will be commencing pilot projects, but didn't reveal who the partners are.

The first satellites are slated to be launched next year.

Fleet is one in a growing cohort of startups looking to tackle connectivity through smaller and more affordable satellites and rockets.

In March, Rocket Lab announced it had closed $75 million to expand manufacturing facilities in California and New Zealand for its small launch vehicle, known as Electron.

The vehicle is designed to put satellites weighing about 150 kilograms into orbits 500 kilometres above Earth so that businesses such can provide services such as optimised crop monitoring, improved weather reporting, "internet from space", natural disaster prediction, and search and rescue services.

In the same month, OneWeb Satellites -- a joint venture between internet provider OneWeb and space company Airbus -- announced that it will begin the construction of an $85 million high-volume satellite manufacturing factory in Exploration Park, Florida, near NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The first order will include the production of 900 communications satellites for OneWeb's low Earth orbit constellation.

In 2016, Elon Musk's SpaceX detailed plans to launch about 800 satellites as a backbone for a global broadband service. Future additions will expand the network to 4,425 satellites, each weighing 386 kilograms. The satellites will orbit at an altitude of 1,150 kilometres, allowing it to cover a 1,060 kilometre radius on Earth.

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