Australian Securities Exchange-listed telecommunications company Sky and Space Global has announced signing a letter of intent with Virgin Galactic to use its vehicle LauncherOne to launch up to 200 nano-satellites into space from 2018.
According to Sky and Space, using Virgin's LauncherOne 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.
"Virgin Galactic is a truly global company with significant resources and support, and this agreement is the first step in what we believe will be a long-term relationship, and it provides Sky and Space Global a genuine and highly sought-after opportunity," Sky and Space Global CEO Meir Moalem said in a statement.
"It is expected to not only deliver substantial cost savings, due to LauncherOne's ability to carry multiple nano-satellites simultaneously, but will enable us to bolster our bandwidth capacity as we launch further nano-satellites into orbit. This agreement is part of our long-term strategy of building Sky and Space Global's nano-satellite communication system infrastructure and service."
Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson as the world's first commercial spaceline, had previously committed to developing a commercial satellite-launching program, with LauncherOne, which launches from a Boeing 747, already in "advanced testing" at the company's Long Beach, California-based manufacturing and design facility.
"Sky and Space Global and its nano-satellite technology represent the innovative future of nano-satellite bandwidth communications," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said.
"We have created LauncherOne in order to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to launch constellations of small satellites at commercially attractive process."
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.
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 Three Diamonds are the first commercial nano-satellites project that is managed and controlled according to strict European Space Agency standards for small satellites, which gives a high level of quality assurance," Moalem said.
The nano-satellites are approximately 80 percent cheaper than conventional satellites, which cost around $400 million and $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.
"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."
Moalem said Sky and Space Global has an advantage over Google's Project Loon in that the high-altitude balloons will require permission from air traffic control and governments worldwide, whereas space vehicles are not subject to sovereignty. The nano-satellites can also cover more area with fewer vehicles than Project Loon thanks to the higher altitude at which they operate.