11h | Alan Burkitt-Gray
SpaceX has formally completed its takeover of nano-satellite company Swarm, whose co-founders have taken senior positions with Elon Musk’s operation.
The acquisition gives SpaceX a rapid route into providing internet-of-things (IoT) via satellite, with Swarm well advanced it is plans to build a global network.
Former Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo and former CTO Benjamin Longmier (pictured) are now senior directors of satellite engineering at SpaceX. Their LinkedIn profiles still put them in Mountain View, California.
Swarm raised US$25 million in February 2019 to build a fleet of 150 low-orbit satellites for connected vehicles. Backers included Craft Ventures and Sky Dayton with participation from Social Capital, 4DX Ventures and NJF Capital.
Neither SpaceX nor Swarm, which was backed by venture capital, have ever put a price on the acquisition. It was disclosed in August when the companies asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transfer their spectrum licences, a filing spotted by a CNBC journalist. That filing said that Swarm will become “a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of SpaceX upon consummation of the proposed transaction”.
Swarm has been a very different operation in scale from SpaceX. It has specialised in building – in its own premises in Silicon Valley – tiny cube satellites, just a few centimetres across. It has used a number of launch companies to put them in orbit, including a New Zealand company and France’s Arianespace as well as SpaceX itself.
Earlier this year Spangelo – without mentioning the possible SpaceX acquisition – told Capacity that the company then had 250 customers signed up for their internet of things (IoT) satellite service, which went commercial in February 2021, with prices starting from $5 a month. The company began commercial services in February 2021.
By the end of 2021, everywhere on Earth “will have three satellites overhead at all times”, Spangelo told Capacity in that interview.
She is an aerospace engineer who previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) alongside the team that developed the Perseverance rover that is now on Mars.
Longmier previously founded Aether Industries, a stratospheric balloon platform that was bought by Apple in 2015.