Satellite startup Astranis preps for its Falcon 9 launch

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Astranis Space Technologies Corp. is now finally making headway preparations for the scheduled launch of its smallsat aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launch time frame is scheduled to be sometime near the end of 2020, and is expected to provide faster internet for citizens of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

The main target market of Astranis is within the smallsat business category. More specifically, telecommunications satellites, as the company’s main goals is to provide internet access to smaller private entities as well as individuals, who may not have immediate access to the web via major local communication networks.

The satellite scheduled for the late 2020 launch will be a geostationary (GEO) satellite that will mainly cover the entire area of Alaska, as well as the Aleutian Islands. It will have Ka-band connectivity for broadband, and a throughput of 7.5 Gbps, almost triple the original satellite telecomms capacity of the state. It is reported to be designed to have a minimal 300-kilogram total hardware weight, which would allow it to fit very snugly into the 9,500-kilogram “passenger” capacity of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Pacific Dataport will be the one to primarily lease the satellite’s telecomms capacity. It will be offering updated internet speeds of about 25 Mbps to Alaskan consumers, which is a significant upgrade from the traditional 7~8 Mbps that the state’s local citizens are usually provided.

Alaska is indeed the least infrastructured state of the United States when it comes to telecommunications, primarily due to its location and climate. While direct satellite-based internet connectivity has been developed for many years, it has yet to reach the reliability and capacity currently provided by the combination of undersea cables, ground-based relay stations, and dedicated GEO satellites.

Even with SpaceX’s pioneering Starlink system, it is expected that it would still take a few years before direct satellite-based internet becomes as normal and reliable as ground-based integrated internet. Which is why this launch by Astranis’ upcoming GEO sat aboard the Falcon 9 is expected to advance the smallsat market further into sustainability.

While the 2020 smallsat is technically designed to last only within half the operational lifetime of more standard, fully-sized GEO satellites, it will be part of a pilot project that will eventually introduce an entire network of future satellites to Alaska. Named as the Aurora system, it will soon further expand the satellite telecomms capacity that the first network will provide to a maximum of 50 Gbps.

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