Australian Securities Exchange-listed telecommunications company Sky and Space Global has announced entering a binding agreement with Virgin Galactic, with the company officially purchasing four dedicated missions to use its vehicle LauncherOne to launch up to 200 nano-satellites into space.
The four missions will carry several nano-satellites, allowing the company to deploy most of its "full constellation" from 2018, with an aim of being done by 2020.
"We are thrilled to partner with Virgin Galactic on our exciting missions and LauncherOne's first low-inclination launches," Sky and Space Global CEO Meir Moalem said.
"Our partnership with Virgin Galactic will allow us to rapidly establish our full constellation of up to 200 nano-satellites that will provide equatorial narrowband communications infrastructure for billions of people globally."
Sky and Space Global, which in May raised $4.5 million in funds to relist on the ASX via a reverse takeover of Burleson Energy, is aiming to build a wholesale narrowband low-cost voice and data network through the provision of satellite services that it will sell to telco providers throughout equatorial Asia, South America, Central America, and Africa, as well as to shipping companies and airliners operating in those areas.
Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson as the world's first commercial spaceline, had previously committed to developing a commercial satellite-launching program. LauncherOne, which launches from atop a Boeing 747, is already in "advanced testing" at the company's Long Beach, California-based manufacturing and design facility.
The shared vehicle will allow Sky and Space a more cost-effective means of deploying satellites for global mobile coverage, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said on Tuesday.
"Having a 747 as our flying launch site means that LauncherOne can tailor each mission to suit each customer. We've seen an enormous level of commercial and government interest in launches that can reach equatorial orbits without having to pay the large performance penalty associated with transfer orbits," Whitesides said.
"We're very excited to have this agreement in place now with a great company like Sky and Space to deliver its satellites to orbit reliably, affordably, and flexibly."
Sky and Space in June signed a letter of intent with Virgin Galactic to use LauncherOne from 2018, with the former saying it will provide significant cost savings as several satellites can be launched at once, in addition to flexibility in terms of launch timelines and orbital parameters.
"We have created LauncherOne in order to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to launch constellations of small satellites at commercially attractive process," Whitesides said in June.
Sky and Space Global will create a pilot network by launching its first three nano-satellites, the Three Diamonds, in the second quarter of 2017 off a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle by the Indian Space Research Organisation. EU satellite maker GomSpace began constructing the Three Diamonds in March.
The nano-satellites are 80 percent cheaper than conventional satellites, costing approximately $400 million to $500 million to build, measuring just 10x10x30cm, and weighing between 1kg and 10kg.
While Sky and Space Global will have a ground station, much of the work will be automated.
"Our communication network will be constructed from between 150 and 200 satellites in different orbital planes that will cover earth from Latitude 15 North to Latitude 15 South, providing 24/7 availability of service," Moalem explained earlier this year.
"Our services will include voice conversation, instant messaging (texting), and also data transfer through our 'store and forward' service. Our network will include unique 'in-space' automatic network management, which is part of Sky and Space Global's unique disruptive technology and IP.
"We also plan to provide private, secured communication services to premium customers, based on our 'store and forward' capability."