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SpaceX buys tiny satellite firm in first public acquisition

Image credit: Dreamstime

SpaceX has purchased a satellite communications start-up called Swarm Technologies, the first time the firm has made a public acquisition since it was founded in 2002.

The purchase was revealed in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US. SpaceX has reportedly scooped up Swarm’s 30 employees alongside its network of 120 tiny satellites.

The satellites are functioning as a wireless network providing continuous coverage across the planet for IoT devices, particularly in remote areas in industries such as agriculture and maritime.

The service is somewhat analogous to SpaceX’s Starlink service, which has been designed to provide broadband internet using its own constellation of satellites.

Starlink currently has 1,740 satellites in orbit, but more are planned before the rollout of its full commercial service, which has faced delays.

The merger agreement, in which Swarm will become a direct and wholly owned subsidiary of SpaceX, was made on 16 July, according to the FCC filing.

“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 companies said in the filing.

For SpaceX’s part, the company 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.”

While it is presumed that the purchase is related to Starlink, SpaceX has not yet revealed exactly how the IoT network will fit into its pre-existing satellite constellation.

Swarm raised around $25m (£18m) in 2018 from investors but its commercial service only went live earlier this year. Its Tile product is a small modem designed to be embedded in various devices that would otherwise lack connectivity due to their distance from other communications infrastructure like mobile towers.

While it may be the first public acquisition SpaceX has made in its history, the firm did purchase SolarCity in 2016 in a private sale. SolarCity was owned and run by relatives of Musk’s before its purchase and that deal angered Tesla shareholders, who claimed it amounted to a bailout of the firm.

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