2018 has been one of the most challenging and rewarding years for the team at Kepler. We have gone through what feels like several years of development in a tremendously compressed timeline. This growth was no small feat or a result of luck (debatable), but rather the output of continuous effort and a very real struggle. A struggle that was hard fought with many sleepless nights, debates, and committed team members1 – to whom I can’t afford enough credit.
The struggle in 2018 has paved the way to our necessary long-term mission of putting up in-space connectivity. We’ve put together the highlights from each month and what they mean to us below. Here is to an exciting 2019, one where we will not slow down in the struggle, moving onward and upward!
Launch of KIPP
KIPP is Kepler’s first satellite to go up into operation. This was also the first nanosatellite to take advantage of Ku-band for operation. The launch was the culmination of a 12-month effort with partners around the world. It was not only the most sophisticated communications nanosatellite to launch but established Kepler as a market leader.
Inuvik Ground Station
Not only did we undertake getting our satellites into orbit but we also built a teleport to collect all customer data. Installed in December in periods of 24-hour darkness in Invuik, this was the start of our ground station infrastructure roll out. One that will help us to control a larger part of the value chain, deliver better service, and deliver better economics for our customers.
It wasn’t quite enough to launch our first satellite but we also had to prove it worked! After a gruelling waiting period looking to make first contact with our satellite, we heard a beacon. This meant our satellite was alive on orbit after delivery. Needless to say, this was a milestone moment for Kepler as we proved to be “space hardened”, delivering on what we promised to the world.
Once on orbit our team quickly got to work on preparing the first satellite to deliver service. This involved turning on each component of the satellite to make sure it performed as intended to catch anything that might have happened during launch. All the learnings we gathered in this process provided direct input to how we scale the network.March
Backing a successful launch, our commercial team was hard at work signing opportunities. They hit it out of the park with an agreement to launch a third satellite in collaboration with the Satellite Applications Catapult. This helped to bolster customer confidence in our ability to grow the network and deliver a truly useful service.
In hindsight this was a necessary but high risk move. We committed to a 5-year term on a new facility 3x the size of our office at the time. We made a major bet on the team and our growth trajectory. Now this facility is a place Kepler will call home for years to come with enough capacity to support all of our needs.April
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)
Success breeds success. With the first satellite on orbit, a second coming in a matter of months, and a third on order, we built enough confidence to sign a contract with a major OEM — one that will have a need for millions of devices deployed on our network that traditionally would look at satellite communications as last resort solution. We were starting to see the impact of our work and how it represented a way to grow the satellite communications market.
With nothing in market that was available off the shelf to communicate with LEO, the best way to move customer conversations forward was to build our own user equipment. This allowed us to iterate early and often with our customers while ground equipment providers caught up. More importantly, we have all the components from the user equipment, to the satellite, to the teleport and related software available in-house to serve our customers. Net result is improved service delivery at lower cost.May
Months after the first satellite was on orbit, we completed commissioning and testing. Now the team had enough confidence that the satellite was ready to face customers. The prevalent saying of “we’ll fix it in software” held true for all the issues we encountered during commissioning. This gives us renewed confidence in our software-defined radio and overall approach towards satellite design.
With the alpha version of our user equipment available we signed our first customer contract! This was major milestone validating our MVP that launched in January. It also cemented our unique position to be able to claim revenues as our network grows with time, something past satellite communications companies had not been capable of doing.June
What’s better than signing your first contract? Singing three new contracts in less time. Our sales activities really started to move. Now we not only had more customers, but ones that depended on us and our ability to deliver service because they had no alternative. This helped to validate our go-to-market strategy where customers had to take dependency on our network early on.
We know all too well the pain of having limited access time to our satellites. This acute pain is one we will solve with our full network, but in the meantime we had to build additional ground stations to improve our access time. Fortunately, we have partners around the world who help do so effectively. This second ground station meant improved access to accelerate network development but also improved service for our customers.July
The first of our modems goes out to our customers. This allowed any customer with an existing VSAT antenna to connect to our network. We learned a lot about customer preference and communications equipment by shipping this first modem. This helped us to understand that our satellite’s software-defined radio was compatible with most existing equipment, requiring only a software upgrade to get them online.
Learning quickly from shipping our first modem, we embarked to create relationships with many major antenna and modem manufacturers showing them the customer demand, and getting them to build firmware upgrades so their systems would be compatible with our network. This will help us to establish unique distribution for our network and reduce the barrier for our customers to come online.August
We announced the award of a contract for our third satellite to launch in Q3 2019. A continued scaling of our satellite network.
Our modem was in the hands of users running field trials of the service offering. Always interesting to observe and learn how someone will use your product compared to how you thought they might use it.September
After what had been a very successful year, we managed to bring on board Costanoa Ventures to lead our Series A financing with participation from one of our key customers Deutche Bahn and many of our existing investors. This financing was further validation that we’re on the right track building this business, and represents a key capability for the IoT connectivity needs within the mobility industry.
Key to the success of our network will be the addition of as many compatible devices as possible. To that end, early on we established an agreement with Phasor to add electrically steered flat panel antennas on our network. Not too long after that announcement we demonstrated communication with Phasor’s flat panel antenna.October
Launch of our new website to help customers better understand the products and services we offer.
Growing our ground network with the latest antenna to go up in Awarua, New Zealand.November
FCC License Award
Two years in the making: we were awarded our FCC license. This license means we met the necessary technical, regulatory, and financial milestones to deliver our service to the US. Not only did this create defensibility for Kepler but it also retires meaningful regulatory risks.
Topping off our achievements with the FCC was the launch of our second satellite. With a number of tools we created internally to automate satellite operations and a year of learning from our first satellite, we reduced commissioning time from 4 months to 1 month. The second satellite launch was flawlessly executed, helped demonstrate we know how to scale the network, and now customers will enjoy an improved service offering.
A New Home
Last but not least, we set foot into our new home. This will serve as Kepler’s HQ for years to come and will allow us to scale all parts of the business.
A Team with No Quit
December, we shipped another customer modem, completed engineering designs for the next generation of our SDR, and submitted another regulatory filing. All of these activities are setting us up to hit the ground running in 2019.
Our accomplishments in 2018 were only possible because of our incredible customers, partners, and investors. So, on behalf of everyone at Kepler I want to send a sincere thank you for supporting our journey to put up the internet in space. This shared long-term mission will be a key enabler for the space economy.
While we’re just getting started, our vision of growing the demand for satellite connectivity will become more evident in 2019: a year that is bound to be formative for Kepler and the NewSpace industry at large. Expect to see rapid acceleration on our network deployment, unique network architecture announcements, and services that had not been delivered by satellites prior.
Onward and upward!