Fresh off a big fundraising round, Kepler Communications has received money from the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program or STDP to advance its satellite communications.
CSA officials did not respond to requests for comment from SpaceQ. However, STDP description says Kepler will receive $2 million for on-orbit demonstration of optical and radiofrequency data relay services, and will produce a technology demonstration of real-time data downlink and telemetry, tracking and command.
Describing Kepler’s service as “the Internet for space,” CEO Mina Mitry told SpaceQ that the network aims to provide “on-orbit network infrastructure designed to act as Internet exchange points, enabling real-time, high-speed, high-bandwidth data relay.”
The company will offer radiofrequency communications based on their existing 21-satellite constellation, and by doing so, “speed up the decision chain” in space mission communication, Mitry added. Services are available via a service level agreement for applications isuch as payload technology, ground infrastructure, and edge computing.
“The Canadian Space Agency awarded contributions to support the Canadian space industry in the demonstration of technology,” the award notice stated. “More specifically, to gain flight heritage for potential commercial sales; for validation or qualification of an eventual scientific instrument; to demonstrate a new product, service or application.”
Two other companies received STDPs as well: Montreal’s Félix & Paul Studios Inc. received nearly $2 million for a virtual reality camera system flight demonstration, while Halifax’s Galaxia Mission Systems Inc. received $1.722 million for “demonstration of the Möbius satellite constellation, a software-defined Earth observation platform.”
Toronto-based Kepler, founded in 2015, has launched satellites since 2018 based on CubeSat size and standards. Key markets have included the Internet of Things, backhaul services for mobile and (eventually) command and control in space.
The company has raised over US$200 million so far for its satellite technology, most recently a Series C round of US$92 million in April. The Series C round was led by IA Ventures. Others who have supported Kepler include Costanoa Ventures, Canaan Partners, Tribe Capital, BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund, and other unnamed investors.
The new funding, Kepler said in April, will be to “launch an optical data relay infrastructure in 2024, complementing its existing RF network,” building on from an optical data constellation that SpaceQ first reported on in 2020. The company plans to deploy the satellites in sun-synchronous orbits and to have fully available optical services for customers by Q1 2025.
When the fundraising round was announced, Brad Gillespie, general partner at IA Ventures, said the network Kepler is providing allows for easy-to-access connectivity beyond low Earth orbit at a reasonable cost. Saying that access beyond our planet is tricky, the network Kepler offers gives “a fast, open, developer-friendly network enabling ‘it-just-works’ connectivity between any asset in space and back to Earth—and someday to Mars and beyond.”
Kepler’s newest generation of optical satellites are scheduled to launch this fall to advance optical communication technology already used in the constellation. Two spacecraft were launched aboard the SpaceX Transporter-7 mission in April 2023.
Kepler has stated their network “will streamline on-orbit communications with a network infrastructure designed to act as Internet exchange points (IXP) for space-to-space data relay. The Internet-ready constellation will deliver data to and from spacecraft in real time, enabling high-speed data relay through SDA-standard optical terminals.”
SDA is a reference to the U.S. military’s Space Development Agency, which has been building out a low-Earth orbit “architecture” of satellites that are supposed to communicate with one another regardless of what vendor has sent up the satellite. Data-sharing, SDA has said, will be achieved through optical communications in space, along with ground and airborne terminals via radio or optical communications. Tranche 0 of the SDA constellation launched in April as well, with 10 satellites; eight were provided by York Space Systems and two by SpaceX, which also performed the launch.
Kepler also recently started adding customers who want to use Aether-KU communications payloads on satellites, such as an announcement by Spire Global and Kepler earlier this month. Spire plans to use Aether-KU on three Kepler satellites with the option to use the communications payload on an additional 47.
Kepler has three Aether product lines: Aether-S with “real-time, always-on, low-latency connectivity,” Aether-KU with “300+ Mbps from low Earth orbit (LEO) on a 3.4m dish and 240 Mbps on a Kymeta flat panel antenna”, and a future Aether-O planned to offer “an optical connection for Gbps speeds in bursts.”