How Fleet Space Technologies is Helping to Keep Devices Connected
Tiny satellites transmitting data to connect the Internet of Things across the globe is the driving inspiration behind this space-tech company.
Need to know
Flavia Tata Nardini, 38, and Matthew Pearson, 35
First Tree Growing Ltd, New Zealand, in 2018
Beverley, South Australia
Top five investors
Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Artesian Venture Partners, Momenta Ventures
52, including three contractors
(about $170 million)
What is it?
“Fleet Space operates a big constellation of small satellites to provide connectivity for devices all around the planet and for many industries,” says co-founder Flavia Tata Nardini (above). “In space, as in all electronics, satellites are getting smaller – launching a big storm of these is the future.” Fleet Space has six nanosatellites already in low-earth orbit, with plans to launch four more in the near future. Its development of 3D-printed small satellites will lead to mass manufacturing and multiple launches.
Where did the idea come from?
Italian-born space engineer Tata Nardini was entranced by the small-satellite revolution when still at university. “Satellites only as big as a shoebox were used by universities to give students access to space,” she says. “It was fascinating – like an iPhone in space.” Working at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands, she met her husband-to-be, who was from Adelaide. Around the time she moved to South Australia to be with him in 2013, Silicon Valley companies were raising funds to provide earth-observation services – cameras in space. “Coming from living in Europe to Australia, I realised, ‘Oh, wow, there’s a lot of space and a lot of need for connectivity in remote places.’ Our idea was that we could use that observation concept but for communications.” She and her co-founder, Matthew Pearson, were buoyed by the thought that if they could bring a satellite solution to all the unconnected parts of the world, “we will really help humanity, big time”.
How did you get it off the ground?
Tata Nardini says she and Pearson “spent one year building satellites with our hands in our garage – as all the great startups do in the beginning”. They also talked to potential customers to understand what kinds of problems their nanosatellites could solve – and for which industries. “After a year, we met with Blackbird Ventures and told them, ‘We want to build a constellation of small satellites to connect the world’s Internet of Things.’ And they were like, ‘Okay!’ So we jumped into this whole new world.”
What have you learnt?
“Building a startup is hard, no matter if it’s a constellation of satellites or a little family business. But if you want to make an impact, the bigger you think, the easier it gets. There’s a magic when you think really big and try to do things that are going to change how the world operates. Believe it or not, you find money, you find support, you find employees.”
Last December, Fleet announced that Alpha, its next-generation small-satellite constellation, will be designed, engineered and manufactured in a “hyper factory”, with three other space-tech companies, at the new Australian Space Park in Adelaide, helped by a $20 million investment from the SA government. It will be the nation’s first dedicated space manufacturing hub. “Satellites used to be all custom-built but we’re going to start mass-manufacturing them this year, right here in Adelaide, and launch 100 in the coming years.”