5 mins read 14 Mar 2023

Quasar Satellite Technologies Secures $6M in Funding

Spin-off technology, originally developed through CSIRO’s radio astronomy program, is about to usher in a change in how Earth’s ground stations communicate with the large number of satellites in orbit. Quasar Satellite Technologies is at the heart of this change, recently receiving $6 million in pre-Series A funding.

Credit: Quasar Satellite Technologies.

When scientists approach their research, unless they are tasked with looking for a commercial application - they usually just work towards bettering human knowledge of science itself. Every now and then, however, science and engineering breakthrough the industry application barrier, and a global benefit emerges. 

A prominent example that is often cited is the development of wi-fi. It was radio astronomers, who were searching for the signals generated by tiny black holes that first caused the domino effect that would lead to an invention by Australia’s science agency, CSIRO, that would be rolled out and benefit billions of people across the planet. 

Now, a new CSIRO-spin-off technology - also born in the heart of radio astronomy - is set to potentially revolutionise how ground stations across the planet communicate with the growing global network of satellites being put into orbit. At the very heart of this new program, is a new Australian start-up, called Quasar Satellite Technologies (or ‘Quasar’). 

The innovative technology uses antennas that are fitted with phased array feeds (PAFs - pioneered by CSIRO for use in radio astronomy) that will allow each ground-based antenna to communicate with multiple satellites, instead of supporting single satellite communications. 

Natasha Maimbo, Rashimi Laranth, and Natasha Rawlings from the Quasar team, with one of the PAF instruments. Credit: Quasar Satellite Technologies.

The company has this week announced that they have received a further \$6 million in pre-Series A funding to achieve their goals - with the funding win led by Main Sequence Ventures and included PAN Group (known for empowering founders) and Marc and Lindy De Stoop of Climatech Group. This follows closely behind the announcement of a \$5.3M Defence Innovation Hub contract. 

“Quasar’s outstanding team is building the next generation of satellite communications technology which will place Australia firmly at the vanguard of the world’s space and communications industries,” said Martin Duursma, Partner, Main Sequence Ventures. 

“Quasar’s solution will likely touch every human on Earth as internet including streaming services, Internet of Things, Earth Observation imagery and sensor data is beamed from satellites to Earth.”

The funds will be used to fast-track defence contracts and develop the PAF technology in multiple radio frequency bands. Having received interest from key stakeholders that make up part of the ground segment of satellite communications infrastructure (i.e., the dish antennas and their network of stakeholders), Quasar is set to grow its operational capacity by year’s end, increasing its team size from 14 to 24. 

Communicating in the Congestion

Every satellite needs a home base to communicate with on Earth, but present-day satellite ground stations typically track one satellite at a time, leading to heavy congestion and limiting the successful deployment of satellites and the downstream industries they support. Credit: CSIRO.

In recent years, the success of SpaceX’s launch program (and in particular Starlink satellite constellation network) has translated to many more satellites being orbited. SpaceX is not the only company currently launching or considering launching constellations of satellites, with numbers expected to swell into the hundreds of thousands in the coming decade. 

The rapid growth of satellites in orbit has, however, not matched the ground segment capabilities for all these satellites to communicate to. In other words, there are too many satellites broadcasting their data, and not enough radio dish antennas (or time on antennas) to receive this data. 

Here is where the PAFs make a big difference. Instead of speaking to one satellite at a time, this technology can speak to multiple satellites at the same time, from different stakeholders - allowing more data to be streamlined back down to Earth. The PAFs are only about the size of a coffee table but have the capabilities to replace up to 35 parabolic dish antennas and run them at a fraction of the cost. 

“Quasar will launch our true multi-beam Generation 1 digital phased array technology later this year. Our world-first technology was born from the CSIRO’s radio-astronomy division and this foundation technology will help us change space communications forever,” said Phil Ridley, CEO and Founder, of Quasar.

“Our array is like no other phased-array in the market - it is like having a data centre instead of a single PC for ground station communications. We are way ahead of the curve and were beyond thrilled to be able to share this vision and gain the support of investors in what is a difficult raise climate, especially for space investment” said Natasha Rawlings, COO of Quasar. 

PAFs were originally designed to survey large portions of the radio sky for astronomy, in very efficient amounts of time. The technology was originally used in CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope, and soon, the Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang will also have a cryogenically cooled PAF mounted on the single-dish antenna - for astronomy usage.