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Astranis satellite
Artwork shows Astranis’ high-throughput telecommunications microsatellite in orbit. (Astranis Illustration)

A California-based startup called Astranis Space Technologies has signed a deal with SpaceX for the launch of its first geostationary satellite, which is due to widen Alaska’s access to broadband internet service in 2021.

The deal calls for SpaceX to launch Astranis’ microsatellite as a secondary payload on a Falcon 9 rocket, during a launch window beginning in the last quarter of 2020, CEO and co-founder John Gedmark announced today in a Medium post. SpaceX confirmed the deal in an email pointing to the post.

“We’re excited about what this means for Alaska, one of the most rugged states in America, and by extension, one of the hardest to serve with broadband internet,” Gedmark said.

Satellite broadband internet promises to connect billions of people in the world who don’t currently have easy, cheap access to global networks.

Companies such as Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb are working on constellations that would make use of thousands of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. In contrast, Astranis is developing a new breed of low-cost satellites that weigh about 660 pounds (300 kilograms) and would sit in stable orbital slots 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface.

The drawback for such geostationary satellites has to do with latency – that is, delays due to signal travel time that can cause a lag of up to a half-second or so in network response. But Gedmark says higher-latency satellite broadband access can still attract customers in out-of-the-way areas.

“If they are underserved or have no connection at all, then they just want internet as fast as possible. … Really, 95 percent of what people do in today’s world is not latency-sensitive,” he told GeekWire in January.

Alaska could serve as a good test case. The latest statistics from BroadbandNow suggest that 23 percent of the state’s population is underserved when it comes to broadband access. In comparison, only 9 percent of Washington state’s population is said to be underserved.

In January, Astranis announced a deal with Alaska’s Pacific Dataport Inc. and Microcom to provide the state’s residential and commercial customers with broadband internet service by March 2021. Astranis’ satellite system is designed to provide those customers with data transmission capacity amounting to more than 7.5 gigabits per second. Gedmark said that would “roughly triple the entire satellite capacity available in the state today while reducing costs by up to three times.”

“We hope the partnership will eventually expand to provide many more Gbps of dedicated bandwidth,” Gedmark said.

Financial terms for the SpaceX launch, or for the deal with Pacific Dataport and Microcom deal, have not been publicly detailed. But back in January, Gedmark told GeekWire that the Alaska arrangement was “a firm contract in the many tens of millions of dollars,” involving a seven-year lease of Astranis’ broadband capacity.

Astranis emerged from stealth mode a year and a half ago, with a $13.5 million Series A funding round that was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included Y Combinator, Fifty Years, Refactor Capital and Indicator Fund as additional investors. At the time, Astranis said that round brought total funding to $18 million.

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