5 SoCal Companies Lighting Up the Satellite Space

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Whether they’re providing communications capabilities, real-time weather data, turn-by-turn GPS directions, or TV signals of your favorite shows, artificial satellites have become indispensable to human life. Some satellites are as huge as school buses, others as compact as milk crates, and Earth’s orbit is filling up with them due in no small part to these 5 SoCal companies.

Leo Aerospace

Gardena, CA

Founded in 2017

Leo Aerospace wants to be the FedEx of CubeSats (compact cube-shaped satellites), giving companies the ability to place microsatellites into space as easily as sending a package across the country. To achieve this, Leo Aerospace has developed a unique launch vehicle that uses a hot air balloon/rocket combination. The balloon lifts the payload high into the sky before the rocket takes over and inserts it into orbit. This inexpensive system uses way less fuel than incumbent launch vehicles, but more impressively, fits into a shipping container that can travel directly to the client’s location, reducing lead times by a factor of ten. No more waiting around for years to catch a rideshare rocket into space. The small startup counts about ten employees and raised an undisclosed amount of cash in 2 funding rounds. 

Phase Four

El Segundo, CA

Founded in 2015

Satellites are set to become 75% cheaper and faster to produce thanks to new technology engineered by Phase Four. The startup is on a mission to solve the costliest part of a satellite, its propulsion system. Phase Four’s proprietary electrode-less RF thruster technology eliminates the need for hard-to-source components like anodes and cathodes, and sidesteps common fail points in traditional technologies including electrodes, high-voltage electronics, and complex fabrication. The ~50 person company is raising its Series A and has already received major orders for its small and affordable thrusters from Capella Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

Space Micro 

San Diego, CA

Founded in 2002

Satellites circling the planet have to contend with a barrage of challenges including, but not limited to, space debris, drag-inducing atmosphere, other satellites, and of course, damaging radiation. Space Micro can help with the latter. The company designs and builds radiation hardened electronics for satellites. Its catalog of offerings include flash memory, divert attitude control systems (DACS), radio transponders, and software defined radios all engineered to withstand the bombardment of radiation found in space. The company counts about 120 employees and just scored a $9 million contract at the US Air Force’s first annual Space Pitch Day. 

Terran Orbital

Irvine, CA

Founded in 2013

If your business, university, or government agency needs small satellites, then put Terran Orbital on your call sheet. The startup is ramping up production of pico and nanosatellites in its brand-spanking new 40,000 sq ft SoCal facility. In addition to developing and manufacturing smallsats, Terran Orbital provides launch services to help organizations get their devices into orbit. The company is also building its own global constellation of nanosatellites that will provide science and weather data to subscribers at half the cost of traditional satellites. Lockheed Martin, Beach Point Capital Management, and Goldman Sachs all see promise in the ~60 person startup, contributing financing to the tune of $46 million. 

ViaSat

Carlsbad, CA

Founded in 1986

ViaSat is one of the world’s leading satellite internet providers, and it's doing more than just ensuring remote explorers and military outposts can stay connected. The company offers inexpensive online access to rural communities and developing countries where little or no cable internet infrastructure exists. In 2017, ViaSat blasted its massive ViaSat-2 satellite into space so that it can provide internet services to Latin America. Now, users in Mexico can get online for as little as 50 cents an hour. The company is readying to launch three ViaSat-3 satellites to serve customers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in 2021, and Asia-Pacific in 2022. ViaSat is publicly traded on the NASDAQ and counts 5,600 employees across all its operations. 

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