An animation shows a Lynk satellite conducting a test demonstration above the U.S.

Lynk Global

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Overview: Texts from orbit

A text message received via a Lynk Global satellite.

Michael Sheetz / CNBC

Recently I woke up to a text message from a satellite, sent by Lynk Global co-founder and CEO Charles Miller. Satellite communications are in a new era of disruption, and “direct to device” has become one of the hottest topics in the past year. So I caught up with Miller to have him explain the significance of the 20-word message I received, sent by a Lynk team in an area outside of D.C. that has no cell coverage. 

“I asked them to send that text message from one of our phones,” Miller said. “It’s using a SIM card that our satellite recognizes as being a paid subscriber and it goes up to the satellites, comes back down in the network, and then finds you wherever you are and sends you that text message.”

He added: “You could send a text back to us the next time the satellite connected and it would send it back to the phone.”

 What Lynk is doing – and Miller argues that his company is the world leader in the satellite direct to device market – is nothing short of revolutionary. The satellites act like cell towers in space, connecting to devices on the ground in areas where there is limited or no service.

They’re part of a technology shift, in which satellite companies partner with terrestrial mobile network operators (MNOs) and device makers to fill in the coverage gaps across the Earth. So far, the satellite operators of Globalstar, Iridium, SpaceX and AST SpaceMobile are also chasing this untapped market.

In Miller’s view, Lynk has a head start. The company has flown five test satellites since 2018 and has three operational satellites in orbit. It plans on “launching many more this year” and has an eventual goal of up to 5,000 satellites in orbit. Lynk plans to roll out commercial service this spring. Miller says Lynk’s tech allows its satellites “to connect to every type of mobile phone on Earth.”

“We’re years ahead of everybody else. There are lots of companies hyping what they’re going to do years from now, but we’re doing it today,” Miller said.

While Lynk has yet to announce which MNOs it has contracts with, Miller said that it has commercial deals with 27 terrestrial operators – “the big ones that everybody would know” – that cover 41 countries. They’re worth over $2 billion. This year, Lynk will begin offering a mix of emergency alerts, periodic messaging and Internet of Things connectivity as it begins expanding. He said hundreds of millions of subscribers will get all of this soon.

“You’ve talked a lot about how space can be used to make a difference here to life on Earth. The inevitable question is: Why do we spend so much money on space? This is going to change the lives of billions of people,” Miller said. “Rather than pull them into the 21st century, we’re going to take the 21st century to them where they live.”

What’s up

  • SpaceX changes Starlink residential pricing to capacity-based: The company rolled out a split of “limited capacity” and “excess capacity” pricing, raising the former to $120 per month and lowering the latter to $90 per month. The changes go into effect on April 24. – CNBC
  • FAA predicts commercial space missions to as much as double over four years: In a report to Congress, the FAA forecast that there could be as many as 186 launch and reentry operations by fiscal year 2026, up from 74 in fiscal year 2022. – FAA
  • FAA seeks $175,000 fine from SpaceX over missing launch data: In a first-of-its-kind civil penalty, the FAA alleged the company did not submit required data ahead of a Starlink launch last year. – CNBC
  • The Polaris Dawn private mission with SpaceX is now scheduled for summer, an effort led by billionaire astronaut Jared Isaacman. The program gave an update on training completed so far, which ranges from academic work with SpaceX to climbing mountains, scuba diving, fighter jet flights, skydiving and more. – Polaris
  • NASA’s Mars rover hits second anniversary since landing: Perseverance kicked off it third (Earth) year on the red planet on Feb. 18, as the rover continues to collect geological samples and explore the surface. – JPL
  • China’s Mars rover hasn’t moved in months: The Zhurong spacecraft has been stationary since at least September, NASA imagery revealed, with the rover having entered a hibernation state in May. The rover was supposed to resume activities in December, but the Chinese have given no update on its status. – SpaceNews
  • Relativity targets Mar. 8 for inaugural launch: The company announced the window for its first Terran 1 launch opens at 1 p.m. ET, with the 3D-printed rocket aiming to make it to orbit. Notably, the company is foregoing conducting a static fire test, citing prior testing as lowering risk. – Relativity / Read more
  • SpaceX senior advisor says Starship is in “good shape” after test, with the company likely to go for an attempt some time in March, pending its FAA launch license. – SpaceNews
  • National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group meets in DC, for an all day session of government and industry leaders. – NASA
  • Space Force outlines new launch acquisition strategy, with an emphasis on opening the door for new and small rockets through a dual-track approach for contracts to be awarded in 2024. – SpaceNews
  • Capella launches analytics partner program, in an effort to expand the capabilities of government customers to commercial markets. – Capella
  • Momentus gives update on fifth mission, with plans for three more this year: The company said the Vigoride-5 vehicle continues to operate as planned, and that it completed assembly of its Vigoride-6 vehicle, which is scheduled to launch in April. – Momentus

Industry maneuvers

  • Terran Orbital wins $2.4 billion contract to build Rivada’s constellation of communications satellites: The spacecraft builder will design, manufacture and deploy 288 satellites for Rivada, as well as 12 spare satellites, for a total contract of 300 satellites. – CNBC
  • Billionaire Jed McCaleb’s space habitat company Vast acquires Launcher, for an undisclosed amount. All of Launcher’s employees are joining, with the company to continue development of the Orbiter space tug and hosted payload products, as well as the E-2 rocket engine. Vast will not continue to develop Launcher’s Light rocket. – CNBC
  • Firefly aims to raise $300 million, according to a securities filing. The disclosure noted that Firefly has raised $30.2 million from three investors so far. – Firefly
  • Momentus raising $10 million through a direct offering, from an unnamed institutional investor. At the same time, the company announced a $8.5 million settlement to a class action securities lawsuit, $4 million of which is to be funded by insurance, and a $10 million payment to ousted co-founders Mikhail Kokorich and Lev Khasis. – Momentus / Momentus
  • Texas proposes $350 million “Space Commission,” in a move that uses a sliver of its project surplus for the next two years to fund further the industry’s investment in the state. – Ars Technica
  • Satellite communications startup E-Space wins defense contract, with the company founded by Greg Wyler aiming to demonstrate its network’s capability for the Space Development Agency and Space Force. – E-Space
  • Maxar signs three-year deal with Guyana agency for environmental monitoring data. The company announced a contract with the Guyana Ministry of Natural Resources, for Maxar’s Crow’s Nest product to monitor offshore petroleum drilling. – Maxar
  • Satellite communications startup Omnispace signs agreement with Ligado Networks, to combine use of their frequencies of spectrum. – Omnispace
  • Sateliot signs agreement with GoSpace for satellite IoT water management, with the companies saying that the deal will help monitor water wells.  – VentureBeat
  • Paul “Rusty” Thomas joins Sierra as Chief Technology Officer, and will lead its Space Applications division as Senior Vice President and General Manager. Thomas joins Sierra from Amazon, where he led the Project Kuiper government solutions team and before that led DARPA’s Project Blackjack satellite program. – Sierra Space
  • Former Virgin Galactic CEO runs for Congress: George Whitesides announced his candidacy for a California district 27, running as a Democrat. – Whitesides
  • Matthew Shouppe named Chief Commercial Officer at spaceflight safety software company Kayhan. He joins the company from LeoLabs, where he was the senior director of its commercial sales team. – Kayhan Space

Market movers

On the horizon

  • Feb. 26: SpaceX Falcon 9 launching Starlink mission 6-1 from Florida.
  • Feb. 27: SpaceX Falcon 9 launching Crew-6 mission for NASA from Florida, carrying astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, as well as UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
  • Feb. 28: Rocket Lab and Virgin Galactic report Q4 results after the market closes.

By Sia