Smallsat startup reportedly raises $10M round

A stealthy company developing small satellites has reportedly raised $10.1 million from one of the few venture capital firms that has shown an interest in the space industry. CrunchBase, a technology company database run by technology news site TechCrunch, noted late Friday that Cosmogia received $10.1 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) last month. The only citation for this funding is “DFJ Report” and no other information on the investment, including the valuation of the company, is given. There has been no announcement of the investment by either DFJ or Cosmogia.

So what exactly is Cosmogia? The company’s website offers no hints: it is nothing more than the company’s logo. But even companies in stealth mode leave a trail of regulatory filings and other documents that offer hints about what they’re doing. A listing for the company as part of a Carnegie Mellon University career fair provides this succinct description:

We’re developing systems to provide universal access to information about the changing Earth, its environment, and its people. We are a team of aerospace engineers, computer scientists, physicists, economists and analysts that develop and utilize aerospace technology and computer science for applications that range from deforestation monitoring to land use to food security.

That “aerospace technology” appears to be in the form, at least in part, of smallsats. Cosmogia holds commercial remote sensing licenses from NOAA for four satellites, designated Dove-1 through -4. Dove-1 will “undertake a short-duration experimental mission” in a circular orbit at the space station’s inclination. Dove-2 will perform a similar mission in an elliptical, 64.9-degree orbit. Dove-3 and Dove-4 will operate in more traditional sun-synchronous orbits commonly used by remote sensing satellites; these, too, will be experimental, but not “short-duration.”

Filings with the FCC offer more details about the company’s first two spacecraft. Dove-1 is manifested as a secondary payload on the first Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares (née Taurus II) launch, now planned for early this year. The spacecraft is a “3U” cubesat, 10 x 10 x 33 centimeters in size and weighing six kilograms. According to an orbital debris assessment report filed with the FCC, the spacecraft will reenter less than two weeks after launch.

The spacecraft’s mission, according to a separate FCC filing, “is a technology demonstration to: a) test the basic capabilities of the low-cost bus built from non-space, Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components; b) show that a bus constrained to the 3U cubesat form factor can host a small payload; and c) demonstrate the ability to design, produce and operate satellites on short schedules and low cost. Dove 1 will do this by transmitting health and payload data to the ground.”

Dove-2 is similar, although it is launching as a secondary payload on a Soyuz rocket later this year carrying a Bion-M biomedical research spacecraft. It is designed to stay in orbit for up to half a year according to its FCC orbital debris report, although another FCC filing about the mission states that the mission duration will be two years in order to test the spacecraft’s power system.

All this suggests that Cosmogia is some kind of commercial remote sensing company that seeks to leverage the growing capabilities of cubesat-class spacecraft to provide imagery, likely trading away high resolution in favor of improved temporal resolution by operating a constellation of such spacecraft. That makes it similar to Skybox Imaging, which is developing its own small satellites for launch starting later this year. Cosmogia, based on its career fair description, may be focused more on environmental and related applications than Skybox, though.

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