Viasat celebrates its 35th anniversary

In 1986, public internet was still years away when three young engineers launched the company in a spare bedroom


In May 1986, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” was a No. 1 hit, Ronald Reagan was president, and the Walkman was changing the way the world listened to music. Early cellphones – far from mainstream – weighed about 2 pounds and sold for around $3,300. And personal computers, while becoming common, were used mainly for video gaming, word processing and homework; they wouldn’t start getting connected to the internet for seven more years.

The spring of ’86 was also when three young California tech employees left the security of jobs with a San Diego satellite telecommunications manufacturer to found Viasat. Mark Dankberg, Steve Hart and Mark Miller were compatible coworkers at Linkabit, and launched Viasat on the strength of their reputation and contacts in the defense sector.

Armed with three Macintosh computers and little else, the men worked in a spare room at Dankberg’s house, giving companies the engineering and support needed to win satellite-based defense contracts. After securing two of those contracts in Viasat’s first year, the company was awarded $300,000 in venture capital. They quickly began developing products – the first a signal-to-noise ratio device for the U.S. Army that also served to establish Viasat’s reputation.

From there it grew to what it is today: An international, multi-segmented communications company of about 5,600 employees, whose FY2020 revenue was $2.3 billion. It’s a company that links soldiers on the ground with command centers thousands of miles away; provides critical communications to senior government leaders in the air; streams in-flight entertainment to airline passengers around the globe; enables employees and students in the remotest of places and in multiple countries to work and study from home; and brings the online world — often for the first time — to previously unconnected communities throughout Latin America and to several other countries.

Through all those remarkable advancements, all three founders have remained with the company: Dankberg as chairman of the board and executive chairman, Miller as Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, and Hart as Chief Technical Officer.

Here are highlights from the long list of accomplishments they set in motion 35 years ago:

1990 - Viasat delivered its first product to the U.S. Navy: The VTS-3000 SATCOM test system

1996 – Viasat’s Initial Public Offering closes in December, and the company begins trading on the NASDAQ as VSAT

1999 - Viasat moves to its Carlsbad, CA headquarters

2000 – Viasat acquires VSAT and antenna systems groups from networking business Scientific-Atlanta.

2001 – Viasat acquires Comsat Laboratories, the premier satellite technology development house, from Lockheed Martin. It also acquires US Monolithics, which designs high-frequency broadband circuitry.

2002 - Viasat ships first airborne broadband terminals for Connexion by Boeing, an in-flight online internet connectivity service.

2004 - Viasat completes development of the ArcLight system, a hub-spoke waveform designed for air and ground mobile platforms. Viasat ranks 8th on Business 2.0’s 100 Fastest Growing Tech Companies.

2005 - Viasat’s SKYLink product began operations on business jets. The company is recognized as a Top 100 Federal Prime Contractor by Washington Technology.

2007 - Viasat acquires Switzerland-based JAST Antenna Systems, which develops microwave circuits and antennas for terrestrial and mobile satellite applications. The SurfBeam terminal, with more than 500,000 shipments, becomes the most popular VSAT terminal.

2009 - Viasat acquires Denver-based satellite internet service provider WildBlue Communications.

2010 - Viasat selected to provide a next-generation Blue Force Tracking system (BFT-2) for safer military operations

2011 - ViaSat-1, the highest capacity satellite in the world at the time with 140 Gbps capacity, launches in October.

2012 - Viasat rolls out Exede by Viasat, a nationwide service offering the fastest consumer satellite broadband at the time.

2013 - Popular Science names ViaSat-1 and Exede service to its “Best of What’s New” for 2012.

2016 - The United States Defense Information Systems Agency awards Viasat a contract to provide global in-flight broadband and communications services on VIP and special air mission government aircraft.

2017 – In June, ViaSat-2 is launched, becoming the world’s most advanced, highest-capacity communications satellite at the time. JetBlue became the first airline to offer free Wi-Fi connectivity on every aircraft using Viasat’s in-flight entertainment system.

2018 - Brazilian telecommunications company Telebras enters an agreement with Viasat to bring internet to country’s unconnected communities and facilities.

2019 - Viasat signs contracts for the launch of three ViaSat-3 satellites. Viasat contracts to deliver and test the first Link 16-capable LEO spacecraft, designed to enhance communications for U.S. and allied military forces across the global battlespace.

2020 - Viasat selected to provide NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps with a next-generation command post capable of supporting multi-national operations anywhere in the world. Viasat launches nationwide residential service in Brazil.

2021 - Viasat acquires RigNet, Inc, a leading provider of networking solutions and specialized applications. The company also closed on the purchase of the remaining 51% of the European Broadband Infrastructure — including the KA-SAT satellite.