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Interview | “In the past, a satellite used to cost 250 million euros; now, a million, but being in space is expensive”


About Regio7: a news media where you can follow up the latest news and all the information from Manresa and Central Catalonia. 

In this interview, our CEO and Co-Founder Jaume Sanpera has shared his insights on the statuquo of Spanish space industry, the current challenges in the IoT industry (cellular coverage!) and our plan of how we can help to tackle these challenges. 

Why do you want to deploy 250 nanosatellites?
To provide Internet of Things (IoT) coverage at low cost anywhere in the world. In today's internet of things connectivity, there are two completely different worlds.
One with mobile coverage that reaches 10% of the planet with extremely cheap and compatible equipment. A piece of equipment for IoT within a city covered by a mobile operator costs 5 euros and there are already 2 billion devices like these. Then, there is the rest of the world where there is no mobile coverage and the devices cost 500 euros. Now there are only 5 million of these devices.
Where is this 90% without coverage?
In Spain, it is in rural areas. On a global scale, in the oceans, or in Africa, where coverage is almost non-existent. In North America and South America, the coverage is much lower than in Europe. In these areas, if you want to follow a refrigerated container from end to end from the time it leaves Brazil until it arrives in Paris, you have many areas without coverage.
How do you solve this issue?
We take the standard system used by Mobile Operators, evolve it with them, and deploy satellites that allow existing, 5-euro devices to be used anywhere in the world. This means that you have standard equipment running on a constellation of satellites. This technology, which is unique, will be demonstrated in February with the launch of the first satellite on a Space X rocket (a firm led by Elon Musk). With this satellite, we will demonstrate end-to-end technology with our MNO partner, which is Telefónica.
We will deploy a constellation of what is called low earth orbit Satellites (LEO). Traditional satellites are 30,000 kilometers away. Ours will be located 550 kilometers from earth and will circle the globe. This means that with one satellite we will already have coverage everywhere, but with a very high revisit time. 
We will be launching more satellites to reduce this time. At the end of this year, we will have five satellites in orbit and we will enter the commercial phase.


Can you start with just five satellites?
Yes, in the Internet of Things, you have three large groups of applications. A group that is not sensitive to the delay such as agriculture, livestock, or infrastructure; another that works with up to one message per hour as maritime logistics; and a third group of near-real-time communication such as ground logistics. These five initial satellites will serve all applications that are not sensitive to delay time.
In 2024 we will launch 64 more satellites, with these we will be able to cover 70% of the internet of things market. For the remaining 30%, we will need up to 250 satellites to provide service in real-time.
How much funding have you raised so far?
We have raised 12.5 million euros. We first did a seed round and then a series A in which three major shareholders entered: Indra (the aeronautical company of the Ministry of Defense) which has 9% of the shareholding; Cellnex, which has 3%; and Sepides (linked to the State), with 5% of the titles.
How much does it cost to launch a nanosatellite?
We use very small satellites. They occupy 30 centimeters by 20 and by 10 when the solar panels are not deployed and weigh about twelve kilos.
Today, big launchers, like SpaceX, have rockets specialized in launching small satellites. We have reached an agreement with SpaceX to launch our next satellite this February 15th. The price is calculated by the weight, to launch our satellite it will cost us around 150,000 euros.
And the satellite itself?
The satellite, by itself, was about 700,000 euros. We have invested a lot of money in it. Before, a satellite used to cost 250 million euros. Now it costs around a million including the launch.  The reduction has been brutal, but despite this, being in space is still expensive.
How advanced is Spain in space solutions?
In Spain, we have all the cards in hand to have a large sector for space. We have our own technology, capacity, and talent thanks to the universities.
However, we lack an investment market like the American one. It is a technology that needs a lot of time to mature and that for a fund is much more complicated.
We created the company in 2018 and we haven't invoiced for four years. That's a lot of time. It is a very important investment without having reached the market yet.
What is the point of a Spanish space agency?
It makes perfect sense and even more now.
Space has been the domain of large corporations and semi-public companies. Now that there is an outbreak and the number of companies is multiplying by one hundred, it is essential to have a Spanish space agency to set up a country strategy.
What is your business model?
It's a super scalable business model. When you launch a constellation of low-orbit satellites, you cover the entire globe and commercially you have to hit everyone.
This can be very complicated, imagine arriving in a country and getting to a customer who doesn't know you or your brand, it costs three years and a lot of money to get their trust.
However, we operate on the same device that the Mobile Operator is already using, what we do is become the coverage extension of those local telcos.