Start-up Kepler raises $60 million to expand in-space data communications network, add US office
09 Jun 2021
A series of GEN1 satellites ready to head to a launch site.
Kepler Communications, a start-up that is building a satellite internet network for service outside of the Earth, raised $60 million in a new round to help the Toronto-based company grow, including an expansion in the U.S.
“We’re not selling to businesses directly here on Earth – we’re focused on providing communications to space stations, to other satellites, to allow them to bring their information back down to Earth in real time,” Kepler CEO Mina Mitry told CNBC.
Kepler’s private equity round was led by Tribe Capital, which has previously invested in space companies Relativity and Momentus, with funding also coming from Addition Capital and Canaan Partners. The company has now brought in $90 million in total since its founding in 2015.
The company is working to put “just over 200 satellites” in orbit to get its network “fully operational by 2023,” Mitry said. Kepler’s satellites are “roughly the size of a cereal box,” circling the Earth in low orbits that run from the north pole to the south pole every 90 minutes. The company has 15 satellites operating in orbit and is building the satellites in its Toronto headquarters at a rate of more than 10 per month.
Thanks to the satellites already in orbit, Kepler is generating revenue in the “millions range” even before its network is fully operational, Mitry said.
Senior satellite technician Chris Summers completes the final pre-flight checks on satellites Kepler-16 and Kepler 17.
While there are a number of companies working to build new satellite internet networks for Earth-bound people, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, Kepler is creating a service for everything outside of it. Mitry noted that Kepler’s network would the first built by a company, giving NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) network as an example of a comparative but aging capability.
“We’re going to be the commercial alternative that’s available,” Mitry said.
Kepler’s goal is to connect to other businesses’ and organizations’ assets, such as imagery satellites or space stations, and then “move that information back down to Earth.”
“All this stuff is happening to make space usable by a massive set of people and that’s why now there’s this need to put up internet access outside of Earth which didn’t exist before,” Mitry said.
U.S. office likely in Washington
Mitry noted that Kepler has doubled its headcount annually since its founding. The firm had about 80 workers at the beginning of 2021, and it expects to have about 150 employees by the end of the year.
Kepler’s expansion will include adding more outside of Canada, with the company planning to establish a U.S. office. Mitry said the company has yet to commit formally to a location, but that the office is likely to be located in Washington, D.C.
“The focus of this office is to really scale up for U.S.-based government customers,” Mitry said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate that, even based as a Canadian company here, we’ve landed quite a few U.S. government opportunities and we want to be closest to our customers to help support them. So we’ll be growing out both sales and marketing, as well as engineering functions.”