PARIS — Startup broadband/narrowband satellite constellation operator Kepler Communications will launch the first two satellites planned as part of a 140-satellite constellation in mid-2020 aboard a Russian Soyuz-2 vehicle operated by GK Launch Services. The launch contract was made through Innovative Space Logistics BV (ISL) of Holland.
Canada-based Kepler already has two demonstration cubesats in orbit, launched in 2018 aboard a Chinese Long March 11 and an Indian PSLV rocket. Both these launches were organized by ISL.
Kepler plans its constellation to provide global data services after multiple launches planned between 2020 and 2023. It has already begun testing its broadband service with early customers using the two demonstration satellites.
In response to Space Intel Report questions, Kepler said it selected the launch option from a suite of options presented to it by ISL for 2020 missions. The Soyuz vehicle is expected to launch the Kepler satellites in mid-2020.
GK Launch Services Chief Executive Alexander Serkin said the company, which has been given rights to market Soyuz rockets commercially outside Russia, said he hoped the 2020 launch “will become a good basis for building a relationship with Kepler for future missions.”
“We looked at all of the options available that ISL was actively considering as part of their manifest for next year and found an option together that met our desired schedule, cost and appetite for risk in the reliability of the vehicle,” Kepler said.
“This launch schedule and schedule assurance was a big driver for the selection of the vehicle, whereas cost and access to options pertinent to our secondary requirements for the launch integration were drivers behind doing this with ISL.”
ISL is one of several companies building their own deployers and organizing launches in what is becoming a dynamic small-satellite launch market.
Larger vehicle operators including SpaceX and Arianespace are proposing new smallsat launch options to capture the growing market, and multiple dedicated smallsat launch vehicles are about to enter the market alongside Rocket Lab.
Kepler’s Ku-band constellation includes both a wide-band and a narrowband service. The company is focusing on the former, for high-speed backhaul of data from remote locations to telecommunications grids. Its narrowband service, called EverywhereIOT, will begin user trials in the coming months, the company said.
Kepler has raised $21.1 million in financing, with the latest round, in October 2018, led by Costanoa Ventures.