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Space Software Startup To Pursue SDA Contracts « Breaking Defense

WASHINGTON: Three of the founders of bankrupt Vector Launch have created a new startup, NewSpace Networks, to develop space software products for applications such as data analysis, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things (IoT). As one of their first forays into the market, the company intends to respond to the Space Development Agency’s January call for “leap-ahead technologies” for its evolving DoD space architecture.

The new San Jose-based company is eyeing SDA’s top two priorities: the so-called ‘transport layer’ for Internet and communications connectivity and the ‘tracking layer’ that will also cover hypersonic missiles. NewSpace Networks leadership believe they could provide capabilities to the ‘battle management layer,’ and the ‘support layer’ to enable ground and launch segments to support a responsive space architecture.

“We could occupy several of those layers,” Robert Cleave, formerly Vector’s chief revenue office, told me in a phone conversation today, which included NewSpace Network co-founders Shaun Coleman and John Metzger. Coleman was the first investor in Vector Launch; Metzger was vice president of software engineering. As we reported, the SDA’s Jan. 21 Broad Area Announcement gives interested vendors one year to pitch their ideas.

Coleman said that NewSpace Networks is the only company focused on creating a software-based infrastructure in space. Rather than building satellites, Cleave explained, “we see ourselves as a provider of software that makes the satellite smarter.” The idea is to move the aerospace industry from its current hardware focus to a focus on software, as has happened at big tech firms across Silicon Valley and is recognized by many of the Air Force’s leadership.

NewSpace Networks intends to target military and defense-related customers, along with commercial firms and civilian government agencies. This includes pitching to be a part of  DoD’s efforts to develop and use 5G high-speed communications capabilities and to provide connectivity to Army vehicles.

But it also is looking at potential sales outside of the traditional aerospace community, such as vendors of autonomous vehicles, city governments interested in infrastructure monitoring, and even direct consumer sales of healthcare devices and entertainment services.

The wide variety of potential customers is based on the fact that NewSpace Networks’ planned products are focused on computing, data storage and processing capabilities at the edge, ones that have a wide variety of potential uses. According to today’s announcement, NewSpace Networks’s initial products will focus on “the unique challenges of edge computing via space connectivity.” But the company’s tech also could be used with aircraft, drones or aerostats serving as the connectivity node, the co-founders explained.

The company also intends to work on:

  • Data analytics and analysis;
  • Cloud integration;
  • Network optimization;
  • Virtualization & Hyperconvergence (the latter is industry jargon for combining computing, storage and networking in a single system);
  • Space and air integration;
  • Security and encryption;
  • Application lifecycle management; and
  • IoT enablement.

Tuscon-based Vector was one of three commercial space firms chosen in April by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for its DARPA Launch Challenge, a $12 million competition to rapidly launch small satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), until its surprise withdrawal in September due to financial difficulties. The other two companies were Virgin Orbit, which withdrew in October to concentrate on more lucrative customers, and the secretive California-based startup Astra, that first went public in early February via a website. According to a Feb. 3 profile in Bloomberg Businessweek, the firm intends its first launch on Feb. 21.

Vector declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, and as colleague Jeff Foust reported on Jan. 24 announced it would auction off its assets. Vector already has a $4.5 million bid from Lockheed Martin for its GalacticSky software-defined satellite technology — essentially a computer on orbit that can be configured for various satellite missions that will be accepted if no other firms issues a bid by Feb. 21. If others throw their hats in the ring, there will be an auction for GalacticSky on Feb. 25.

And guess what? NewSpace Networks intends to do just that. “We will be bidding for GalacticSky as well,” Coleman said, noting that I was the first reporter they have told. The founders believe that GalacticSky’s technology, that allows a satellite to act more like a cloud node than a mainframe computer, would be complementary to their own developments. Even if they don’t win the auction, they hope to work with whoever wins.

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