Speaker Interview: Naomi Kurahara, Co-founder and CEO, Infostellar
Space Tech Expo is fast approaching and we would like to introduce you to another speaker from the Conference. This week’s Speaker Interview is Infostellar’s Naomi Kurahara.
Naomi Kurahara is the co-Founder and CEO of Infostellar, a space communications technology firm based in Tokyo, Japan, which is currently developing a satellite antenna sharing platform called StellarStation. Previously, she worked as a system engineer at Integral Systems Japan and received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Kyushu Institute of Technology. She was also a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo.
Naomi will be speaking on the ‘Transitioning from Analog to Digital: Upgrading Future Satellite Missions with Smart Software ' session on Wednesday May 23 at the Space Tech Conference 2018.
Hi Naomi, could you please tell us a little bit more about Infostellar and your responsibilities as CEO?
Infostellar’s main product is a sharing platform for satellite communication antennas called StellarStation. By using our platform, antenna owners can sell their idling time and satellite operators can buy that time to operate their own satellites.
My main responsibility at Infostellar is to define the direction of the business, but I’m also a satellite engineer myself. During the early stages, I was in charge of the product concept design. Now, I handle more of the business strategy and partnerships.
What would you say are the key challenges and opportunities in the satellite industry at present?
The key challenge and opportunity are the same thing: to design an application that is highly scalable, and to actually gain users and produce revenue from it.
You will be speaking on Transitioning from Analog to Digital: Upgrading Future Satellite Missions with Smart Software session @ The Satellite Systems day on Wednesday, May 23. Software-driven platforms are becoming more popular for the space industry. How will software change the way we use satellites?
To put it simply, it will introduce more players into the industry. Previously, ground systems were very complex and expensive to build, but the transition to easy operation through mobile applications or web interfaces will allow lower-budget or early-phase tech demonstrators to start their own satellite operations.
Another major change is in automated management of satellite constellations. Rather than selling satellite data on a per-image basis, autonomous constellation operation would allow for on-demand, real-time delivery of information extracted from satellite data. However, in order to realize satellite autonomy, there will need to be more sophistication on the software side; use of machine learning, for instance.
Infostellar offers a platform that connects satellite operators and antenna owners – why was this a gap in the market and why had it not been addressed before?
There are a lot of technical and regulatory obstacles you need to overcome to share antennas on a broad scale. It’s particularly complicated because it involves varying communication protocols and multiple countries’ legal restrictions. Until now, it was just too complex to tackle.
Infostellar is a big supporter of developments in the smallsat industry. How do you think this market will develop in the coming five years?
I think about 2,000 satellites will be put in orbit in the next five years, with most of them being small satellites. At the same time, most of them will be the first or second satellites of their respective organizations, and most likely they won’t have customers yet, but instead are in the technology demonstration phase.
That’s why the coming five years are an important period for the small satellite industry. Everyone will be testing if they can actually create a real satellite business or not.
You are based in Japan, a country that is strengthening its position in space. Which Japanese developments do you think are particularly promising for the global space industry?
I think they’re all promising in different ways, but ALE’s artificial shooting star project is particularly interesting. Their value proposition is unique even on a global scale. If their technology can be realized, there will definitely be a market for it – not just for entertainment, but for a number of other potential uses.
In terms of industry news, what development, announcement, or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year?
Orbital Insight’s $50 million funding round was a pleasant surprise. They’re not a satellite maker nor a launch provider, but a data services provider, and they were able to raise this amount. This seems like a natural progression of the industry, because the end-user services should have a large chunk of market share, just like GPS.
When I heard the news, I thought that finally the era of satellite data use had begun – but really, this is just the beginning of the beginning.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Conference at Space Tech Expo. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?
I’m excited to meet lots of satellite operators, both current and future, and gain a better understanding of the various use cases of satellite technology.
Don't miss Naomi Kurahara speaking on the 'Transitioning from Analog to Digital: Upgrading Future Satellite Missions with Smart Software ' session on Wednesday May 23 at the Space Tech Conference 2018.