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Startup CEO Lays Out Vision for Constellation of Cloud Data Centers

By Caleb Henry | May 17, 2016
      Cloud Constellation SpaceBelt

      An artist’s rendition of SpaceBelt. Photo: Cloud Constellation

      [Via Satellite 05-17-2016] Cloud Constellation, a satellite industry startup, is designing a network of Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) data centers for cloud service providers with needs for highly secure communications. Called the “SpaceBelt,” Cloud Constellation is in discussions with four satellite manufacturers to produce the network on a timeline that would see the first spacecraft reach orbit by late 2018.

      In March this year Cloud Constellation completed a Series A investor round to start funding the constellation. According to the company, the proposed constellation will cost $460 million to complete, which the company will seek to raise through a combination of investor capital and debt financing.

      Scott Sobhani, CEO and co-founder of Cloud Constellation, told Via Satellite that the goal of the company is to create a worldwide cloud storage networking capability that does not rely on lease lines, Internet cable, or any other network to function. The constellation would serve enterprise and government customers needing to transport sensitive and mission-critical information that requires high levels of security.

      Citing cybersecurity risks with common ground infrastructure, and a “pandemic crisis” level of surreptitious cyber theft and monitoring by hackers and other malefactors, Sobhani said Cloud Constellation felt creating its own system was the best way to ensure protected cloud data services.

      “We feel, at SpaceBelt, that human error will never leave. It will never disappear, so in order to address the needs of enterprises, we need to create an entire system that is uniquely and exclusively just for the enterprise, can protect the data, and supply a dedicated point-to-point and mesh network around the world,” he said.

      Cloud Constellation started designing SpaceBelt about three years ago. Sobhani said the company sought not to “overbuild” the project and instead focus on creating a simpler system that is more robust. The initial constellation is to feature eight data-center-type satellites that can grow modularly to scale with the evolution of cloud storage and computing technology. Sobhani said the spacecraft will use inter-satellite links to communicate with each other and eliminate the need for Points of Presence (PoPs) on the ground.

      “[Our network] can actually cross-strap any Radio Frequencies (RF) that it sees into the SpaceBelt network without having to force that source to touch the ground or interconnect using Earth stations or hops to do that,” he explained. “Our system has the ability to accept any RF signal, and allow it to uniquely or privately speak to any other RF signal that is also connected to the SpaceBelt. That allows for someone on one end of the world that might be operating in Ka-band to communicate with someone in C-band on the other side of the world.”

      Sobhani said Cloud Constellation terminals designed to work with the SpaceBelt would be located at the sites of enterprise or government customers, their receiving offices and remote sites, and would be able to communicate without any requirement to touch or communicate with the Internet, leased-lines or other infrastructure. The terminals will be certified to United States defense military standards for security.

      By keeping customers’ data in space, Sobhani said SpaceBelt obliges jurisdictional laws of governments that desire to keep certain data within specific national or supranational boundaries. He described these jurisdiction laws as one of the biggest challenges faced today by cloud service providers. Keeping the infrastructure for these customers in space would be akin to having it in international waters under the international space treaty, Sobhani said, thus guaranteeing that data only touches land in the regions it is allowed.

      Sobhani said the Series A round raised $5 million dollars, which was enough to get to the point of procurement. While admitting $5 million is a ways off from what is ultimately needed, he said the funding brings the company closer to the total amount it needs before tapping Export Credit Agencies (ECA) for support.

      “We only need $190 million more to actually fulfill our equity target. The rest is to be raised with debt and the debt should be something to the effect of any number of COFACE or EDC or Ex-Im financing,” he said.

      Sobhani said Cloud Constellation boiled the cost of its program from $4 billion to its $460 million goal. Working with more limited resources forced the company to plan in a deliberate and more efficient manner, he said.

      “We don’t think that would have been possible with a series of deep pocket investors from Silicon Valley trying to do it because we’ve seen what comes out of that: lots of satellite constellations blanketing the Earth, wildly over-covering and trying to recover from lots of interference issues. We see that as being enabled by massive amounts of money thrown at the problem,” he said.

      Cloud Constellation is aiming for a 24-month delivery schedule for its satellites, with launches placing spacecraft in orbit by the end of 2018, followed by service starting in 2019. Sobhani said the company has customers that are interested in using SpaceBelt, and that the entire system should be self-funding by its second year of service. When launching the system, he said no more than half the fleet launch requirement would sit on any rocket, and that the company plans to use multiple launch vehicle types to reduced risk. If SpaceBelt proves successful, the system is designed to grow and increase in orbiting storage capacity. Sobhani said Cloud Constellation would plan to put up the same number of satellites every year to scale with demand.

      “We plan to put up petabytes and petabytes of data each year, and my objective is that that would exponentially grow. We are probably going to hit an exabyte in space by year five, and many exabytes thereafter,” he said.