UK-based Archangel Lightworks, which is building lasers that use a technology called free space optics to transfer information to and from satellites, has raised £4m. The seed round was led by Oxford Science Enterprises, and will be used to fund a series of demonstrations to prove its hardware works.
Our new spacetech report gives you 30 pages of detailed facts, figures and findings on the limitless future of business in space. Read for free
Free space optics
The startup plans to manufacture what it calls a miniature optical ground station — a laser that can send and receive information from a satellite using free space optics. Unlike fibre optics — the sending of information using light through a wire (or fibres) — free space optics is entirely wireless, although it does need a clear line of sight to work.
There are two problems Archangel Lightworks is looking to solve. Firstly, a reliance on undersea cables to connect continents with each other means that if those cables get damaged somehow, areas can be cut off from the rest of the world.
Archangel’s optical ground stations could be placed at strategic points around the globe as backup in case something like that happens, says CEO Richard Johanson.
Secondly, current transmissions to and from satellites use radio waves and are limited in how much data they can transfer — which will become a bigger problem as the amount of data increases over the next few years. Radio waves are also vulnerable to attack and disruption.
Transmitting information via light — using lasers — can transfer 10-100x more data, more securely, says Johanson.
While free space optics is being tested by various companies around the world — X, Google’s “moonshot” factory, is currently testing its own free space optics technology — it isn’t currently in use on a commercial scale.
Archangel Lightworks is pre-revenue, and is working with the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency to begin testing its optical ground stations.
It hopes to start taking orders for them in the next year, and will look to sell to governments, defence communities and commercial partners like telecoms companies, says Johanson.
The fresh cash will be spent on a series of demonstrations to prove that Archangel’s lasers can actually move data between its terminal and another terminal (a satellite or ground station). To do that, it plans to grow its team from seven employees to at least 20 and acquire more labs to carry out tests.
- Oxford Science Enterprises
- Silicon Roundabout Ventures
The laser communications market
The global spacetech market is projected to be worth a huge $10tn by 2030. While European startups have picked up far less than their US counterparts over the past few years, investors are beginning to cotton on to the spacetech opportunity in the region.
The sector was one of the few in Europe that actually picked up more funding during a downturn-impacted 2022 than it did the previous year — raising $788m compared to $721m.
Other European startups in the laser communications segment include:
- Germany’s Mynaric, an IPO’d startup worth $184m that’s been backed by Peter Thiel’s investment fund.
- France’s CAILabs, which raised a €26m Series C in December 2022 to take its total funding to $56.3m.
- Scottish startup Craft Prospect, which has raised $1.5m in grant funding.