Loft Orbital Will Fly Canadian Quantum Satellite

Space as a service
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Loft Orbital

· 3 min read

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Loft Orbital is like Uber for satellites. Yesterday, the tech startup said Honeywell and the Canadian Space Agency have booked a ride for the Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat).

Wait, what?

Let’s rewind. Earlier this summer, Honeywell came out of nowhere to announce it’s built the world’s most powerful commercial quantum computer.

Evidently, Honeywell and the Canadian Space Agency have been in chats about launching one into space. The satellite will perform quantum key distribution, which is traditionally done over fiber networks (thus limited to a transmission range of ~125 miles).

  • Here’s how it will work: An optical ground station sends a quantum key into space, QEYSSat receives and verifies it, then transmits the key to another ground station.

The launch, while 18–24 months away, will be North America’s proof of concept for space-based quantum communication. China launched the first quantum satellite, Micius, in 2016.

Back to Uber for satellites

Loft buys washing machine-sized minisatellites from different vendors, then fits them with an adapter that lets customers attach specific instruments. Loft’s clients span commercial (Honeywell), civil (UAE Space Agency), and military (Pentagon tech lab DARPA) organizations.

  • Loft typically puts multiple customers’ payloads on a satellite, like an Uber Pool. But QEYSSat, Loft’s biggest contract to date, is getting its own personal Uber.

Loft’s launch vehicles include Russia’s Soyuz, India’s PSLV, and SpaceX’s Falcon 9. “We tend to like SpaceX a lot because they are way cheaper,” co-CEO Pierre-Damien Vaujour told me.

A new SaaS?

Loft likes to say it operates microsatellites as a service. It’s not building space applications, Vaujour said, just providing the infrastructure. “We abstract away all the complexity of a space mission” by handling regulatory compliance, launchers, satellite integration, ground stations, and data transmission.

Loft gets recurring subscription revenue from customers, and the pricing scales with space and resource power consumption. “We want to be AWS for space,” Vaujour said, referring to Amazon’s cloud computing arm. I need to get my analogies straight.

Big picture: Right now, space has few highly developed applications, but new ones are coming online. “To me, it’s very akin to the start of the internet,” Vaujour said.

+ While we’re here: If you’re mixing up qubits and Quibis, check out the Brew’s quantum computing primer.

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