Historic Rocket Launch Accelerates the Commercialization of Space
Razor’s Edge Is Early Investor in Spaceflight Industries and HawkEye 360
December 4, 2018
Mark Spoto and Steve Pann, Razors Edge Ventures
On Monday, December 3, at 10:34 a.m. PST, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, one of the most powerful machines ever built, roared into space delivering more than 60 satellites from 34 organizations and 17 countries to low earth orbit. This unprecedented launch, dubbed the “SSO-A SmallSat Express,” is the single largest rideshare mission ever completed on a U.S.-based rocket. Equally important, the SSO-A SmallSat Express propelled satellites from numerous start-up and technology companies that are leading a wave of disruption in the space industry and accelerating the commercialization of space that began only recently. Included in this launch were smallsats aimed at a diverse set of innovative and valuable commercial activities, including earth observation, remote sensing, communications, weather, asset tracking, emergency response, the Internet of Things, and more.
Razor’s Edge Ventures (www.razorsvc.com) is a venture capital fund that invests at the intersection of national security and commercial enterprise. For several years, we have had a keen eye on the space industry. Historically, space has been the province of first-world country governments and extremely well-funded enterprises. We identified, at an early stage, the transformation that would result from advancements in commercial technologies, including mobile communications, hardware miniaturization, cloud computing, edge processing, 3D printing, and others, coupled with the growing array of more cost-effective launch providers like SpaceX. We are proud to be early investors and key supporters of two major players that enjoyed successes with the SSO-A SmallSat Express launch: Spaceflight Industries and HawkEye 360.
Spaceflight Industries (www.spaceflightindustries.com) is a pioneer in commercial space launch rideshare services that is also redefining how we observe our changing world.
- Traditionally, access to space (rockets) has been limited by high cost and complexity. Sending satellites into orbit once required purchasing an entire rocket; however, with the growing smallsat industry, the demand for routine, cost-effective access to space has increased exponentially. Spaceflight was the first to identify the need for an enabling partner in the market that could merge the smallsat industry demand with the offerings by launch service providers. The company is now the undisputed rideshare management leader, offering a one-stop shop for launch services for commercial, non-profit and government customers to achieve their mission goals. In 2015, recognizing intense market demand, it had the unparalleled vision and expertise to imagine, and then execute on, the SSO-A SmallSat Express.
- Spaceflight is also building the BlackSky constellation of high resolution / high revisit rate imaging satellites (www.blacksky.com), offered in tandem with its best-in-class geospatial intelligence software platform. The company’s “Global-2” imaging satellite was one of the passengers successfully launched on the SSO-A SmallSat Express. When the constellation is complete, BlackSky spacecraft will fly over most major cities and economic zones every 30 minutes (or less), providing unprecedented access to the most current imagery available to commercial, non-profit and government customers. The company’s geospatial platform integrates a diverse set of sensors and data, fusing satellite imagery with real-time news, social media and other data feeds together with highly advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to create timely and relevant insights and analytics unparalleled in the industry.
HawkEye 360 (www.he360.com) is the first commercial company using small satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) geoanalytics.
- HawkEye 360’s “Pathfinder” satellites launched on the SSO-A SmallSat Express – a cluster of three satellites that fly and work together in formation – will collect precision RF emissions data. Many of the defining features of today’s world are invisible to the naked eye, and increasingly, the lifeblood of the modern, digital economy is carried by RF radio waves. HawkEye 360 plans to use the information that its satellites gather to identify, characterize and monitor RF traffic and spectrum utilization, which has historically been the province of governments. Few insights derived from monitoring and analyzing comprehensive global RF activity have ever been commercially available. HawkEye 360 is closing that gap in our understanding of the world around us.
- The company is a true market pioneer, introducing a novel operational concept characterized by a proprietary sensor network, RF signal diversity and proprietary analytic algorithms. HawkEye 360 offers a diversified analytics product suite that helps global authorities combat illegal fishing and transshipment, expedite search and rescue missions, monitor critical infrastructure and enhance border security. The company will also open the RF enterprise intelligence market with applications in transportation logistics, spectrum management and interference detection, aviation flight management, personal safety and financial risk management.
We made our first investment in Spaceflight in 2015 and HawkEye 360 in 2016. In each case, we identified strong founding and management teams with compelling, innovative business plans, coupled with deep technology expertise. The Spaceflight and HawkEye 360 teams are amazingly talented, focused and mission-oriented groups that have each come together to create a team spirit and culture of entrepreneurism, collaboration, risk-taking and execution. We want to congratulate both companies on their SSO-A SmallSat Express launch successes and thank all of their team members for their dedication and hard work over the past few years. We look forward to celebrating many more successes with them.