26 October 2023

Canberra's Skykraft secures $100m investment to develop satellite-based air traffic management system

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Concept art of a Skykraft satellite above earth

Concept art of a Skykraft Block 3 satellite. Image: Skykraft.

Canberra-based satellite and space services provider Skykraft has successfully secured more than $100 million in investment funding to allow it to develop and deploy its planned constellation of air traffic management (ATM) satellites.

The funding will see its initial space-based system deployed by 2025, allowing the company to offer the capability to ATM agencies on a service basis.

Founded in 2017, Skykraft is a spin-off from the University of NSW’s space capabilities incubator.

The company said the aviation sector was facing increasingly congested skies while relying on ageing ground-based systems and infrastructure, and that any efficiency gains and advances were limited by ground-based surveillance capabilities and the effectiveness of air traffic control communications.

It said providing this infrastructure from space would unlock significant efficiency gains and capability improvements.

“Skykraft’s space-based ATM capability will deliver on a clearly identified need in the global aviation sector,” company CEO Dr Michael Frater said. “Our partners share our confidence that Skykraft will be the key player providing the next generation of air traffic management services to the world.”

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The ATM services solution will comprise hundreds of small satellites in Earth’s orbit to provide space-based VHF communications and surveillance, allowing aircraft to follow more efficient flight paths regardless of where they are flying. Skykraft’s satellites are fully programmable while in orbit, enabling rapid prototyping and the development of new services after launch.

The satellites are manufactured in Canberra, and the company’s supply chain is 100 per cent Australian.

UK-listed Foresight Australia, Canadian pension fund OPTrust, and Main Sequence, an Australian investment fund founded by the CSIRO, have provided the financial backing.

“Skykraft’s infrastructure solution has the capability to significantly enhance global aircraft tracking, minimise unnecessary air miles and improve aircraft sustainability,” Foresight Australia executive director Meena Samaan said. “As sustainably focussed global infrastructure investors, we recognise the significance this could have for the aviation industry.”

OPTrust’s managing director Stan Kolenc said OPTrust was proud to be investing in an Australian business revolutionising the air traffic management industry.

“Its innovative space-based infrastructure solution provides significant safety benefits to the aviation sector,” Mr Kolenc said. “OPTrust has a strong track record of supporting the development of transport infrastructure platforms, and we are excited to support Skykraft in building out its satellite constellation.”

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Main Sequence partner Martin Duursma said Skykraft was doing “truly ground-breaking work that has the potential to transform aviation communications infrastructure”.

“Their expertise in designing, building and operating satellite constellations enables them to provide global services that replace legacy systems,” he said.

“By reinventing transport infrastructure from the ground up using space-based platforms, they can increase air safety and address the gaps in surveillance and communications over oceans and remote regions.

“As investors focussed on how space innovation benefits society on Earth, we at Main Sequence are thrilled to support Skykraft as they develop this new infrastructure to connect aircraft anywhere in the world.”

So far this year Skykraft has launched 10 satellites, five at a time with SpaceX on Falcon 9 boosters. It will launch more satellites in 2024 while it completes its in-orbit testing and works with global air navigation service providers to ensure the system meets operational and safety requirements.

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