SpaceX downsizes by buying nanosatellite company Swarm
SpaceX is to buy Swarm Technologies, the company that has started a nanosatellite-based internet of things (IoT) business.
Neither SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, nor Swarm, co-founded by CEO Sara Spangelo (pictured) and CTO Ben Longmier, have formally confirmed the deal in any public statement. That also means no one has said what price is being paid.
However, an eagle-eyed searcher at business news channel CNBC of filings to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spotted a request to transfer Swarm’s licences to SpaceX.
If approved by the FCC, Swarm will become “a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of SpaceX upon consummation of the proposed transaction”, Swarm wrote in the filing, as revealed by CNBC.
SpaceX and Swarm say in the filing they agreed the deal on 16 July, negotiated by Spangelo, “solely in her capacity as stockholder representative”, but they have only just filed for the licences to be tranferred.
The move potentially marks a significant expansion for Swarm, which is five years old and has specialised in making its own equipment in its Mountain View office – including its tiny satellites, its Tile IoT devices and, as of last month,a small evalation terminal for developers.
It has 120 small satellites in service, Longmier told Capacity two weeks ago. The current target is 150. Each measures only 11 × 11 × 2.8cm.
SpaceX also makes its own satellites and rockets, though on a much bigger scale, and is mid-way through creating Starlink, its global internet access company. Both companies focus on low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
CNBC and other commentators noted that this was an unusual move for SpaceX. According to the filing, Swarm will transfer control of its satellite and ground station licences to SpaceX as part of the deal.
“Swarm’s services will benefit from the better capitalisation and access to resources available to SpaceX, as well as the synergies associated with acquisition by a provider of satellite design, manufacture, and launch services,” the filing said.
Until now Swarm has piggybacked off other launches as they have been available, using French, Indian and New Zealand rockets as well as SpaceX.
But perhaps the biggest attraction for Musk and his company was Longmier and Spangelo themselves, and the rest of the team of a few dozen people.
The filing states: “Swarm’s services will benefit from the better capitalization and access to resources available to SpaceX, as well as the synergies associated with acquisition by a provider of satellite design, manufacture, and launch services. SpaceX will similarly benefit from access to the intellectual property and expertise developed by the Swarm team, as well as from adding this resourceful and effective team to SpaceX.”