Remember how FAA shut down the business of NavWorx, with heavy monetary and loss-of-use consequences for its customers? Imagine receiving a letter from U.S. Government telling you that your car is not compatible with roads, and therefore you are prohibited from continuing to drive it. Someone sure forgot that the power to regulate is the power to destroy. This week, we have this report by IEEE Spectrum:
IEEE Spectrum can reveal that the SpaceBees are almost certainly the first spacecraft from a Silicon Valley startup called Swarm Technologies, currently still in stealth mode. Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network.
The only problem is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had dismissed Swarm’s application for its experimental satellites a month earlier, on safety grounds.
On Wednesday, the FCC sent Swarm a letter revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission with four more satellites, due to launch next month. A pending application for a large market trial of Swarm’s system with two Fortune 100 companies could also be in jeopardy.
Swarm Technologies, based in Menlo Park, Calif., is the brainchild of two talented young aerospace engineers. Sara Spangelo, its CEO, is a Canadian who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, before moving to Google in 2016. Spangelo’s astronaut candidate profile at the Canadian Space Agency says that while at Google, she led a team developing a spacecraft concept for its moonshot X division, including both technical and market analyses.
Swarm CFO Benjamin Longmier has an equally impressive resume. In 2015, he sold his near-space balloon company Aether Industries to Apple, before taking a teaching post at the University of Michigan. He is also co-founder of Apollo Fusion, a company producing an innovative electric propulsion system for satellites.
Although a leading supplier in its market, NavWorx was a bit player at the government level. Not that many people have small private airplanes anymore. But Swarm operates at a different level, an may be able to grease a enough palms in the Washington, D.C., enough to survive this debacle. Or, they may reconstitute as a notionally new company, then claim a clean start. Again unlike the NavWorx, there's no installed base.