Back by popular demand, Via Satellite’s 10 Hottest Companies list highlights the “must watch” companies providing satellite communications, ground systems, manufacturing, imagery and sensing, and launch services. Via Satellite editors choose the companies on this list based on their expected activity for the year, and a mix of market share, transformational technology, ground-breaking deals, and overall industry excitement.
The companies selected as the 2022 10 Hottest Companies are listed below in alphabetical order.
AST SpaceMobile is taking a novel approach to satellite connectivity by designing a satellite to connect directly with unmodified cell phones. Instead of needing satellite-specific terminals or devices to use satellite broadband, AST SpaceMobile has designed its satellite BlueWalker 3 to communicate directly with unmodified mobile phones on Earth.
To make this a reality, AST SpaceMobile has formed partnerships with mobile network operators Rakuten and Vodafone to use the companies’ spectrum and function as a roaming service for their customers. This has potential for bridging the digital divide, as many people beyond the reach of cellular networks in the developing world have cell phones, but lack the service to use them.
The company went public in April 2021 to give the company the capital to bring its services to market more quickly. But it won’t necessarily be an easy road. BlueWalker 3 is a nearly 700-square-foot phased array that will be one of the largest ever deployed to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The company has been tight-lipped about the satellite and some in the satellite industry have doubts that the array will unfurl correctly in space, or that the technology will work as promised.
AST SpaceMobile is targeting summer 2022 for its launch, contingent on SpaceX for the final launch window, after it pushed back its target by a few months. While its technology is unproven, AST SpaceMobile has potential to disrupt space-based communications. All eyes are on the company for this key launch in 2022, if it will validate its space-to-cell technology and business model.
In a crowded market of satellite imagery providers, BlackSky has carved out a niche for itself for satellite monitoring and AI-driven insights. The company collects imagery with its 12-satellite constellation, and then fuses that imagery with other sources of data from space, IoT, and terrestrial-based sensors and feeds. The Spectra AI platform processes the data and provides insights for customers. This could take the form of a monitoring solution that alerts the customer when there has been a change on the ground, for example.
BlackSky’s focus is on the software and its ability to deliver insights. In an interview with Via Satellite last year, CEO Brian O’Toole said he sees BlackSky as more of a software and data analytics company than a space company.
The company, based in Herndon, Virginia, is targeted at the defense and intelligence industry. It kept up a steady flow of U.S. government contracts in 2021 with the National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. It also inked a strategic partnership with big data darling Palantir to integrate its imagery and analytics into Palantir’s platform.
BlackSky ended 2021 with a lot of momentum — the company doubled its small satellite constellation through a Rocket Lab launch campaign and cemented its new status as a public company after a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger. BlackSky may be considered “New Space” but it’s established in terms of software, space assets, ground architecture, and customers. In 2022, BlackSky will be one to watch for how it grows as a public company and if it will be on track to hit its projected $546 million in sales in 2025.
The challenge for traditional operators like Eutelsat is to reinvent themselves in the modern era. While historically, Eutelsat’s efforts to change course haven’t been as drastic or expensive as those of its peers, the operator has recently made some impactful moves that have captured the industry’s attention.
Eutelsat recently appointed Eva Berneke to become its first ever female CEO. In an instant, Berneke, who joined from Danish software and IT company KMD, became one of the most high-profile women in the satellite industry. It will be interesting to see how Berneke builds on the work of former CEO Rodolphe Belmer.
In addition, the company acquired a 23 percent stake in OneWeb, which shows it is looking to position itself in a Non-Geostationary (NGSO) environment and opens the door for multi-orbit services. Eutelsat’s Konnect satellite, aimed at reducing the digital divide in Africa, kickstarted the company’s broadband strategy, which it will follow up with Konnect VHTS this year to cover Europe. And the launch of Eutelsat’s reconfigurable Quantum satellite in 2021 was another exciting technical development years in the making.
Eutelsat’s role in the new satellite world is still open to question. But the company made an exciting CEO appointment, which could herald a new era for the company as it looks to evolve from broadcast giant to a multi-faceted operator. Last year was an eventful year for the company, and it will be interesting to see how Eutelsat capitalizes further in 2022.
GHGSat is a Montreal-based startup that designed satellites capable of measuring air emissions from targeted industrial facilities. The company says the satellite technology is so powerful that it can detect greenhouse gasses from sources 100 times smaller than those detected by other satellites. Founded in 2011, GHGSat launched its first product, Pulse – a free global map of methane concentration satellite data that is updated weekly – in October 2020. Eight months later, GHGSat launched Spectra, an asset-specific emission indicator platform that helps customers make decisions and optimize their methane emission management activities.
In 2021, the company closed its Series B funding round and more than doubled its existing fundraising total to $70 million, netting $45 million from an investment group that included the government of Québec (through its Investissement Québec program), OGCI Climate Investments, and Space Capital.
Considering that the world is rocketing headfirst into a climate catastrophe, global industries and governments will need all the tools they can access to form a plan of action. GHGSat provides an example of how space technologies can play a vital role in addressing climate issues. Investors believe that satellite data will be essential in shifting financial markets to account for a country or individual company’s emissions footprint when determining the cost of lending capital, rather than incentivizing natural resource extraction.
The whole world seems to be investing in LEO. While SpaceX and Amazon dominate the headlines, South Korean defense company Hanwha Systems became one of the most talked about companies in the satellite sector with its own LEO plans.
Last year, Hanwha Systems announced its intent to launch a 2,000-satellite LEO constellation, which is expected to come into service in 2025. The company plans for the system to serve land and maritime applications first, then aircraft and urban air mobility applications and later, 6G. Then, Hanwha Systems joined OneWeb’s global ownership consortium with a $300 million investment for an 8 percent share in the company.
However, Hanwha also has substantial assets in satellite mobility terminals. The company acquired the assets of Phasor Solutions and has invested in Kymeta. With activity in building a LEO system and satellite antennas, Hanwha Systems has scale to its ambition. This Asian player is certainly a company to watch in the sector.
HawkEye 360’s strategic focus on providing data to the government sector has paid off and it is uniquely positioned to dominate a growing field of space-based radio frequency (RF) analytics. The Northern Virginia-based company is coming off what it claims to be a lucrative fiscal year in 2021. HawkEye says that its newly launched next-generation satellites have enabled the company to secure more than $50 million in new contracts since the start of last year.
HawkEye 360 operates a constellation of nine satellites that identify, locate and analyze RF transmissions around the globe from a variety of emitters. The company is about to begin an action-packed 18-month schedule of new satellite launches that will significantly increase the size of its fleet.
The company shows no signs of slowing down as it comes into a new year. In January, it grabbed a $5 million investment from Leidos to improve its capabilities in national security space. In return, Leidos will have access to a vast commercial RF data archive. These funds will be added to HawkEye’s $145 million investment chest it has filled from various investors that are pitching in to help grow its data and analytic services.
Unlike HawkEye’s peers in the imagery and sensing area that are raising funds by going public and merging with SPACS, HawkEye is raising money without the help of Wall Street and it doesn’t look like any of its investors are looking for an exit ramp.
In today’s satellite industry, small terminals are big news. Intellian turned heads in August 2021 when it unveiled the “briefcase” terminal with OneWeb. Weighing about 22 pounds, the terminal is billed as compact and easy to use. It was designed to bring OneWeb’s LEO connectivity to communities and businesses in remote areas, even agricultural IoT and research stations.
Intellian and OneWeb did not reveal how much the terminal costs per unit, but these types of compact flat panel antennas have the potential to harness the power of LEO and expand the reach of satellite connectivity.
This is one example of the satellite hardware company adapting as the industry is shifting to multi-orbit solutions. Intellian is also working with SES for its Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) O3b mPOWER constellation, developing a portfolio of terminals to support the MEO system for government, cruise, energy, maritime, mining, and telecommunications sectors.
Intellian is investing in its continued success, and opened two new facilities in 2021 — a new R&D center next to its headquarters in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, and a European headquarters and logistics center in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The company is also working on an emerging technology facility in Maryland. This is rapid growth for the company founded in 2004, which has grown from a $10 million to a $120 million leader in mobile VSATs. Intellian is laying the groundwork through its partnerships and investment in R&D to be a continued leader in satellite hardware.
Rideshare launch provider Spaceflight had a tremendously successful 2021. After achieving the first launch of its next-generation Sherpa-FX1 orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) in January, it launched the industry’s first electric propulsion OTV, Sherpa-LTE1, alongside a second free-flyer, Sherpa-FX2, aboard the SpaceX Transporter-2 mission in June.
Throughout the year, the company signed a slew of new customers for rideshare and launch services. Spaceflight is planning several Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle missions to support these customers, which include GeoJump, Portland State Aerospace Society, Space Products and Innovation (SPiN), Spacemanic, University of Toronto Aerospace Team, and Xona Space Systems, to various orbits from LEO to cis-lunar. The company also signed returning customers Astrocast, Canon Electronics, Capella Space, HawkEye 360, Orbit Fab, Loft Orbital, NASA, NearSpace Launch, and several undisclosed U.S. government organizations to new launch contracts.
Spaceflight is also close to rolling out two new iterations of its Sherpa vehicle. The new chemical propulsion Sherpa-LTC features a high-thrust, chemical propulsion subsystem that enables quick maneuvers on orbit and could pave the way for the OTV to deploy spacecraft to multiple orbits on a single mission.
Spaceflight most recently announced its Sherpa-ES bi-propellant OTV that aims to place small satellites anywhere in cislunar space, including injection to trans- and low-Lunar orbits and GEO. Spaceflight plans to launch the OTV on its GEO Pathfinder rideshare mission no earlier than the fourth quarter of this year.
Rideshare has become one of the main ways that small satellites reach orbit, and Spaceflight is one of the leaders in this area, helping its customers in the smallsat economy reach orbit routinely and economically.
Terran Orbital has massive plans to make its mark on the space industry and Florida’s Space Coast. The company is establishing a 660,000 square foot, $300 million facility on Florida’s Merritt Island at the former NASA Space Shuttle Landing Facility. It will be one of the largest satellite manufacturing facilities in the world, and the company boldly projects that it will produce 1,000 smallsats per year and create 2,100 new jobs.
At the same time, the company is going public through a SPAC with a $1.58 billion valuation, and plans to build an Earth observation constellation with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capabilities through subsidiary PredaSAR.
That’s a lot on paper, but Terran Orbital isn’t all projection. The company reported $25 million in revenue in 2020, and has supported more than 80 missions over the past decade. Customers include EchoStar, Fleet Space, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and NASA. It offers full mission operations, including downlink through its downlink network of 32 ground stations. Terran is also backed by Lockheed Martin, and currently manufactures the 150 kilogram LM-50 bus, with plans to expand the relationship.
Terran Orbital is banking on major, continuing growth in the smallsat industry, hoping it will be the manufacturer of choice for commercial and government smallsat missions. Will the company deliver on its promise of jobs to Florida, its valuation to investors, and rapid manufacturing capabilities to the space industry?
Viasat has long been considered one of the technology leaders in the satellite industry with its ecosystem of spacecraft and ground technology. Founder Mark Dankberg, who was at the helm as CEO for more than 30 years, is a leading voice in the industry. Building on this legacy, Viasat is now at the start of an exciting new chapter.
Viasat made the biggest deal in the satellite sector in 2021, with its acquisition of Inmarsat. With the combined company, Viasat wants to create a mobility powerhouse in maritime and aviation, as well as government and broadband. It positions the company as more of a global player, with Inmarsat’s strong footprint in the United Kingdom, as well as Viasat’s presence in the United States. It was a major statement of intent for Viasat in the 2020s and beyond. This followed the acquisition of RigNet, which made Viasat a vertically integrated energy communications company. More so, the company started the first two quarters of its fiscal year 2022 with record revenue.
It feels like a new era for Viasat as it prepares to launch some of the world’s most advanced satellites, the cluster of ViaSat-3 satellites, which will expand its coverage around the world. Viasat is starting out on a growth path with its new satellites, new CEO Rick Baldridge, and new business combination with Inmarsat. VS