In October 1957, Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched into orbit. The achievement provoked a crisis in the U.S. and sparked the Space Race with the Soviet Union. In 2017, six decades later, and with much less international incident, Loft Orbital, a “satellite as a service” company based in San Francisco and operating globally, was founded by three experienced engineers and business operators, Antoine De Chassy, Pierre-Damien Vaujour, and Alex Greenberg, who came out of Spire Global, a microsatellite imaging company. Today I’m thrilled to announce that Foundation Capital is leading Loft’s Series A round.
The global space economy is massive, generating $328 billion in revenue in 2018. Over the past decade, the commercial sector has outstripped government spending, and now accounts for more than four-fifths of all activities. Year after year, a record number of satellites are launched, as more and more players enter the industry to try to develop various applications for imaging, sensing, and communication purposes. Across the different segments of the space industry, satellite services—the manufacturing, launch and operation of the satellites—account for $128.7 billion.
Due to the industry’s complexity and regulatory limitations, however, many of the new entrants don’t have the requisite expertise in building and operating a satellite. And even though costs have dropped to less heavenly levels, the technology remains prohibitively expensive for commercial space startups. Furthermore, the inefficient reality is that most satellites are only used at specific time intervals of the day, yet their owners have to pay for around-the-clock operations. Taken together, these hurdles put satellites out of reach for most commercial interests and even nations.
Those are the problems for which Loft is offering up a solution. Loft integrates customers’ payloads into standard satellites, launches these satellites, and operates them for customers as a service. The company is initially targeting the 75-100 kg microsatellite segment, one of the fastest growing categories. The market for this microsatellite category is $12 billion at the moment and expected to grow to $35 billion by 2025.
Loft’s basic value proposition is twofold. First, for customers who don’t have space-industry expertise but want the benefits of sensing and communications from space, Loft provides white-glove service. Customers in this category include new commercial players in the space industry and foreign governments that don’t have their own space programs. Second, as Loft aggregates the sensors into one satellite and books the launches from all over the world with backup launches, not only is the cost much lower for each customer, speed to orbit is also much faster.
In essence, Loft is democratizing access to space, putting the benefits of satellites within the reach of many, many more players. The infrastructure they’re providing will enable the creation of more products and services—many as yet undreamt of—to meet the needs of us humans on Earth.
The Loft team has already made tremendous progress: they’ve built out an extraordinary core team, filled their first two missions, and already have signed customers that include well-established players in the space industry. Of course, as with all startups—and even more so frontier tech startups—success is anything but assured. There are formidable hazards ahead for Loft, from supply-chain risks, to launch delays, to transnational regulatory complexities. But to quote JFK’s moonshot speech (in my most plaintive, non-rhotic accent … I’m from Massachusetts, so state law requires me to), we choose to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
There isn’t a group of a individuals on (or off) this planet that I have more faith in to win the Startup Space Race than the pioneers at Loft. Congratulations to Antoine, Pierre, and Alex on this injection of rocket fuel for their company. Now, onwards and upwards!