Science & Technology

Cloud Constellation chooses LeoStella to build cloud data satellites in Seattle area

Cloud Constellation Corp. has chosen LeoStella, the U.S.-European joint venture based in Tukwila, Wash., to build satellites for its cloud-based data storage service.

The satellite constellation, known as SpaceBelt, is scheduled to go into operation in late 2021. It’s designed to give customers a secure place in space to park sensitive data, accessible only through Cloud Constellation’s telecommunications links.

“It’s basically the cloud transformation of space,” chief commercial officer Dennis Gatens told GeekWire in advance of today’s announcement.

The SpaceBelt concept calls for putting 10 satellites in equatorial low Earth orbit (or LEO), at an altitude of about 400 miles (650 to 700 kilometers), with third-party satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) providing the connections to Cloud Constellation’s proprietary data terminals on the ground. Such a system combines the accessibility of GEO satellites with the low cost of LEO satellites.

Cloud Constellation CEO Cliff Beek said that LeoStella, a joint venture created last year by Europe’s Thales Alenia Space and Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, was chosen not only because its pricing was “very competitive,” but also because it promised to deliver all 10 satellites in 24 months.

Beek declined to say how much LeoStella was being paid for the satellites. “I can tell you in general terms that our total capex [capital expenditure] was about $480 million, but with LeoStella’s efficient way of building the satellite, making it smaller, our total raise was about $340 million,” he said. “That price is not all LeoStella. That’s the total project capex, with in-orbit delivery.”

Last year, Cloud Constellation reported winning a commitment for $100 million in Series B investment from Hong Kong-based HCH Group, and the fundraising effort has continued since then.

LeoStella’s chief technology officer, Brian Rider, said providing satellite solutions for the likes of Cloud Constellation was the reason why LeoStella was created.

“The SpaceBelt DSaaS [data storage as a service] will bring a powerful new capability for global data security,” Rider said in today’s news release. “The technology exists to leverage affordable satellites to create the on-orbit cloud, and we are very excited to bring our solutions to the SpaceBelt mission.”

Beek said SpaceBelt’s satellites will weigh in the neighborhood of 507 to 530 pounds (230 to 240 kilograms) and will be built at the factory that LeoStella recently opened in Tukwila, just south of Seattle. LeoStella is also building a smaller set of Earth-observation satellites for BlackSky, a subsidiary of Spaceflight Industries.

Another Spaceflight Industries subsidiary, known simply as Spaceflight, happens to handle logistical arrangements for satellite launches — and Beek said Cloud Constellation could well make use of Spaceflight’s services. He said Arianespace’s rockets — for example, the Vega or the Ariane 6 — are among the launch vehicles being considered most seriously, due to the equatorial location of Arianespace’s spaceport in French Guiana as well as the Ariane 6’s payload capacity.

“There’s a possibility to get all 10 into one launch,” Beek said. “It gets us into revenue-ready faster doing it that way.”

Space-based cloud services (and cloud-based space services) may sound far-out, but the concepts are drawing a surprising level of interest. Last year, Amazon Web Services teamed up with Lockheed Martin on a cloud-based satellite control network called AWS Ground Station, and a Lockheed Martin executive is due to discuss creating a cloud in space next month at Amazon’s re:MARS conference. Meanwhile, IBM has paired up with SES Networks to provide satellite-based cloud access.

Cloud data storage could conceivably be facilitated in the future by the massive broadband data constellations currently being planned by Amazon, OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and other companies. But Gatens argued that Cloud Constellation held a “time-to-market advantage” because its entire 10-satellite constellation could be deployed more quickly.

Who’d use space-based data storage?

“We did get some early expressions of interest from various digital currency groups who came in and wanted to protect their vaults against cyberattacks,” Beek said. “But more relevant would be financial institutions who are looking to send transactional information from Point A to Point B, and just absolutely want to make sure that information about that customer segment is protected. The financial institutions seem to have the highest use cases.”

Beek said blockchain companies might offer space-based services as a differentiator for their market offerings. (That market’s also being targeted by Singapore-based SpaceChain as well as ConsenSys Space, which was formerly known as Planetary Resources and remains headquartered in Redmond, Wash.)

Gatens said space-based data storage could be attractive for any application that’s looking for airtight security or a backup system that’s literally air-gapped.

“There’s a strong interest for health care … protecting patient information where nurses and doctors require real-time access to data,” he explained. “If there’s an interruption in service as the result of a disaster or a malicious attack, the information, including the keys, can be stored on SpaceBelt. There’s a pretty broad range of verticals that we’re addressing, and we could mention government and military as well.”

And data storage isn’t necessarily the final frontier.

“The next generation of what we’re working on right now is the ability to do compute capabilities in space,” Beek said. “Right now, we’re looking to do just the storage, being able to secure data and host it. A few years from now, we’ll be working on processing capability … which reduces the latency for decision-making for space-based economies.”

Cloud computing on the moon, or on Mars? Make it so!

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