An Iridium Satellite NEXT in orbit.

Iridium Acquires Satelles to Become a Global PNT Service Alternative

Iridium is acquiring Satelles with their STL space-based tech, to enhance GPS/GNSS reliant services, supporting 5G networks, transportation, and more

On March 4th, 2024, Iridium Communications released a statement, announcing the acquisition of Satelles, a leader in Position Navigation and Timing services (PNT). The two companies have reached an agreement, as Iridium will pay $115 million to secure and complete the acquisition in the next few weeks.

Satelles has been managing a complex system that takes advantage of the Iridium constellation to offer “Satellite Time and Location” (STL) services. Their service flanks the existing positioning services offered by GPS and GNSS satellite constellations, fundamental for many different applications, such as managing 5G networks, data centers, or transport and shipping.

An Iridium Satellite render, with a pair of solar panels extending from the main spacecraft bus, covered with transmitters
An Iridium constellation satellite. Credits: Iridium Communications Inc.

In the press release, Iridium CEO Matt Desch has defined the Satelles technology as “a perfect application of our network” and describes STL as “the superior solution” for this kind of PNT service. Satelles CEO, Dr. Michael O’Connor considers the acquisition a supercharger for their technology, and is looking forward to a “bright future” with Iridium.


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The importance of Position Navigation and Timing

With an ever more connected world we’re living in now, a multitude of services, industries, and infrastructures have the necessity of exactly knowing their location on Earth, determining a desired route or path around the world, or being precisely in sync with global time standards like UTC (Universal Coordinated Time). 

For example, financial markets all over the world depend on trade operations that have to happen in a secure, rapid, and accurate timeframe. Data centers and 5G networks are also extremely susceptible to delays in transmission and sync, while the security of cargo vessels sailing in remote parts of the world depends on an undisturbed positioning signal. 

Nowadays, most PNT services are run through the main Middle Earth Orbit constellations of the Global Navigation Satellite System, comprising US GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s Beidou, and the most recent European Galileo constellation. 

GNSS external antennas on ESA ESTEC technical center's roof. Credits: ESA/Remedia
GNSS external antennas on ESA ESTEC technical center’s roof. Credits: ESA/Remedia

Despite its proven reliability, in recent times the GNSS has proved troubling to work with, particularly as the signals and frequencies used are becoming too faint and degradable to use for some applications.

Adding to that, signals are easily blocked by concrete, trees, and other obstacles. As more and more industries are leaning on these constellations, the concern for outages is also a looming threat. The cost of external antennas is also a discouraging factor.

Notably, Satelles has proven a remarkable ally for tackling this kind of difficulties, working closely with Iridium to offer a complementary service to GNSS. From the Iridium Low Earth Orbit constellation, leveraging on more consistent coverage and stronger signals, Satelles has greatly improved satellite-based timed and location services.


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Leaning on a global coverage network

The Satelles STL service has been engineered to utilize the transmission technologies of the Iridium constellation. This remarkable network of satellites has been operating around the globe since 1998. Furthermore, the polar configuration of the constellation has permitted cellular coverage in isolated regions of the world, and the constellation’s recent refurbishment has made it more relevant than ever.

Iridium had been supporting Satelles as a main investor for quite some time. It is now taking the reins of the extremely promising company, in what is Iridium’s first acquisition of another company in its history. 

Satelles ' STL solution explained in a stylized drawing, being compared with common GPS and GNSS transmission steps
The STL system, compared with GPS. Credits: Satelles

Aims are to further expand the important role Satelles have obtained. Reducing the costs of adoption is one of the goals, along with automating and integrating STL technology into Iridium proprietary devices.

Of course, further tech development is underway, as the STL prepares to become a dedicated business line of Iridium. The PNT sector will continue to grow in the next few years, and Iridium is preparing to be an integral part of it.


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Marco Guardabasso

Marco Guardabasso

Aerospace Engineering student with a passion for space, photography and arranging music.

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