Ever since broadband internet access prevailed throughout the world, constant connectivity has been vital to every part of people’s lives.
Now, Naomi Kurahara, founder and CEO of satellite antenna-sharing startup Infostellar Inc., aims to bring about innovation in how people can access information — from space.
“I believe what’s happening in the space industry right now is almost the same as what happened to the IT industry 20 years ago, when computers became smaller and laptops got thinner and cheaper,” Kurahara said during an interview with The Japan Times.
“Behind the IT industry’s rapid growth was the internet. And companies in the (space) industry, including ourselves, are now trying to develop communication infrastructure” that underpins the growth of the space business, she said at the company’s office in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
With its online antenna-sharing platform, called StellarStation, Infostellar is starting to establish a network of multiple ground antenna stations to secure stable access to satellite information.
According to the company, although many private companies ranging from tech firms to weather forecasters have their own Earth-orbiting satellites, they are often accessible for only extremely brief periods — four times a day for about 10 minutes each — while they are in line of sight of a ground antenna.
Satellite operators need to spend an enormous amount of money to build their own antenna stations for communications that last only a short while.
StellarStation aims to solve these problems by making satellites accessible anytime and also utilize ground antennas around the world more effectively.
Dubbed the “Airbnb of satellite communications,” the sharing service lets satellite owners find an idle station that can have access to their satellites. For antenna owners, they can let other people use their ground stations.
For example, constant access to satellites and real-time imagery may allow fishermen to locate a school of fish via ocean imagery by monitoring shadows, Kurahara said. Also, satellite ground imagery can benefit farmers who need to check for crop pests and decide the best time to harvest by looking at the colors of their fields.
Infostellar does not have its own ground antenna stations, but instead asks station owners to connect their existing antennas to the company’s satellite-sharing platform. The service officially rolled out in February with limited service, which included antennas located in Japan, Bangladesh, Taiwan and Ghana, and more to come.
As satellites became smaller and cheaper, the space industry will soon enter a phase of dramatic growth similar to the one experienced by the IT industry after the advent of the internet, Kurahara said, adding that the bar to enter the space business has been lowered and even small startups can build and launch their own satellites.
“We aim to realize a world where space and satellites are used by even more people and the market becomes much larger. That’s good for many people because it may trigger significant changes to our lives,” she said. “Climate change, food problems. … I believe (satellites) can solve many problems that our society faces today.”
Expectation is high for the Japan-born space startup. The company in September gained ¥800 million ($7.3 million) in investments from venture capitalists, led by Airbus Ventures, after its launch in January 2016.
Kurahara said the market for space-related businesses is still small, which means there is huge untapped potential.
“I want our service to become something that is used by almost everyone, like Uber and Lyft in the ride-hailing sector,” she said. “We are going to move forward as if we were to take a 100 percent share of the market.”
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Company name: Infostellar Inc.
Founders: Naomi Kurahara, CEO; Kazuo Ishigame, COO; Toshio Totsuka, board member
Line of business: Online satellite antenna-sharing services
Headquarters: Shibuya Ward, Tokyo