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8-Things Earth Observation: August 2022 🌍 🛰(+week 1 of September)
Analysing some key developments in EO industry from the month that passed
Hey! Welcome to another belated edition of 8-Things EO. I just got back to France from a holiday in India, my home country - EO took the backseat over the last couple of weeks (which is why you are receiving this newsletter later than usual). Hoping that everyone is slowly getting back to the post-summer rhythm. Now, let’s get to it!
Three Curated Things
A non-exhaustive summary of key developments in Earth observation from August.
1. Funding, Investments and Financial Stuff 💰
Accenture made a strategic investment in Pixxel, the EO startup building a hyperspectral satellite constellation.
Muon Space, a US-based company that is building a turnkey solution for customer EO satellites raised a $25M in series A funding.
Albedo, launching a high-resolution infrared and very high-resolution optical imagery satellites in very low earth orbit, raised $48M in series A funding.
Atlas Space Operations, a ground system-as-a-service company raised $26M series B funding from Mitsui, which owns ride share provider Spaceflight.
Taranis, an agtech company that uses satellite data to provide crop intelligence solutions raised a $40M series D round.
German startup Dryad, that is building a large-scale IoT network to rapidly detect wildfires, raised €10.5M (potential to integrate EO data?).
Pattern Ag, an agtech company providing predictions on crop risks and nutrient deficiencies raised $35M in funding (potential to integrate EO data?).
Direct-C, which has developed proprietary oil leak detection technology, has raised $3.9M, from investors including Henkel (potential to integrate EO data?).
2. Contracts, Partnerships and Strategic Stuff 📈
BAE Systems is building a first-of-its-kind multi-sensor satellite imaging constellation (optical, SAR, RF), primarily aimed at defence and disaster management applications (I suppose UK could be the anchor customer).
The Rockefeller Foundation provides $5.5M in funding to a consortium including Atlas AI, a startup using satellite data and AI to fill socioeconomic data gaps (for more, listen to the podcast episode with the CEO).
Infrastructure monitoring startup, Asterra is partnering with Orbital Insights to have their insights available through the latter’s platform - here’s a thread from me on why a partnership-based strategy is ideal for EO Intelligence companies.
The US National Reconnaissance Office is looking towards a hybrid architecture - a data fusion engine that can combine various types of EO data - optical, radar, hyperspectral, radio-frequency, weather etc.
Orbital Insight, which recently unveiled its new intelligence solution for industrial facilities), is partnering with Thaicom, a satellite communication operator from Thailand to expand its platform offering in the country.
3. Reports, White Papers and Useful Links 🔗
This report from the World Meteorological Organisation on the State of Climate in Africa, highlighting the challenges in the continent (+ lots of potential for EO)
This white paper from Digital Earth Africa summarising the potential of analysis-ready Earth observation data for the continent.
The ‘Earth Observing Dashboard’ from ESA, NASA and JAXA, which is a great starting point to understand the capabilities of satellite data.
This free, week-long workshop from ESA, for (European) students interested in learning about Earth observation and the fundamentals of remote sensing.
This piece about the BIOMASS satellite (also from ESA) that will help us understand how much carbon is being stored in forests.
This thread from yours truly that unpacks the results of an impact study of the Aeolus mission from ESA, whose benefits are estimated to be about €10.6B!
Finally, ICYMI, I published my state of the EO report with four infographics to summarise what’s going on in EO along with an outlook for the industry.
Three Deep Dives
An analysis of three major trends and developments in Earth observation.
4. The Future of EO Satellites - Business-As-Usual, Satellite-As-A-Service or Turnkey EO?
I have written about this topic before, but it’s worth summarising as we are going through an evolution and it might potentially change the outlook for EO satellites.
Business-As-Usual: Typically, this is how EO satellites were built: a space agency or company drafts mission requirements and orders EO satellites from a satellite manufacturer, who takes care of the entire process in collaboration with the said entity and delivers the satellite to orbit (ex: the BIOMASS mission, led by ESA and being built by Airbus DS UK).
As-A-Service: The model that was enabled by the NewSpace era and is being offered by companies like Spire and Loft Orbital - to provide space-infrastructure-as-a-service, allowing EO companies to just “outsource space”, while they take care of fulfilling their customer needs (ex: the EarthDaily satellite constellation, being built by Loft Orbital and ABB).
Iceye’s SAR-as-a-service model is an interesting variation of this approach, essentially allowing organisations to fast track the procurement of their EO satellites (specifically radars). It might be a risky strategy for going to market with a satellite vs the acquired data, but so far they have already found a few takers (two examples just from this month - the BAE systems announcement, which includes one satellite procured from Iceye and the Ukrainian charity procurement, linked ☝️).
Turnkey EO: The model that is being pioneered by Muon Space, essentially making the development of EO mission a collaborative process with the customer, allowing them to solve their problem using EO. Check out the episode with Muon’s CEO to learn more about how it works.
I believe there is no right or wrong approach, each one fits differently to different needs of the customer - space agencies or governmental organisation might prefer the business-as-usual approach for reliability, upcoming EO companies might prefer the as-a-service approach for flexibility and companies outside the EO bubble (from any industry that wants to launch satellites) might prefer the turnkey EO approach for the collaborativeness it offers. In any case, it is exciting to live in times when all of these options are becoming available - we are at an inflection point for satellite data.
EO Hub, from Geoawesomeness, is a one-stop-shop for all topics related to geospatial data. It's made for policymakers, business leaders, geospatial experts, and enthusiasts, to showcase how EO is transforming our world. Built in collaboration with UP42, EO Hub has curated articles, podcasts, webinars and much more. Check out the Earth Observation Hub at geoawesomeness.com/eo-hub
5. EO Service Layer
We saw Accenture invest in Pixxel last month, and earlier this year, EY announced a satellite image processing service. As I wrote sometime back, there is an inevitable need for independent EO strategy consulting firms in order to bridge the gap between the availability of the technology and the adoption by the majority of users. You might argue Planet has a professional services team and so does the geospatial giant, Esri. But, my strong belief is that this EO service layer needs not only to be objective and holistic, for reasons I detailed in one of the previous editions (#8), but it also needs to be multidisciplinary - as I discuss with Prof. Chris Rapley in this episode.
Integrating satellite data into mainstream business processes is both a technical and organisational challenge. Making a multi-million dollar investment, whether is to acquire satellite data or satellite-derived products is not only about data management, but it is also about change management - something that consulting companies are adept at. They did that for digital transformation, cloud transformation and my thesis is that they will also be involved for geospatial transformation using EO.
This is also the reason I went full-time with TerraWatch Space Advisory - to not only support the growth of the EO industry, but also to facilitate the use of satellite data across industries. If you are keen to discuss, do reach out!
6. The Future Of Commercial Weather Data From Space
There was an important piece published on the WSJ, that went under the radar, that touches on how the commercial sector has effectively ‘failed’ in delivering to the needs of NOAA, with respect to the acquisition of satellite data for weather forecasting. NOAA “expected more satellite companies to enter the market, but they have been slow to emerge.“ I outline two reasons for that in this thread - i) lack of understanding and ii) the tricky business case.
I refer to weather satellites as “dark knights" as they are the silent guardians and watchful protectors of the planet - not only do they save millions of lives, but they save billions of dollars in economic value. But, historically the weather satellites has always been government-owned and operated.
As the Arctic warms four times faster than the global average, Europe suffers its worst drought in 500 years, Africa is affected disproportionately by extreme weather events and California is announced to be at a heightened risk of megafloods, we need to solve the weather problem asap - and for that, both institutional & commercial entities have a complementary role to play!
One of my goals for launching TerraWatch Space (podcast and this newsletter) is to demystify EO and that includes weather from space - my upcoming piece later this month is an attempt to do just that. Stay tuned!
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One Thing From Me
An insight, an idea, a wish - something I have been thinking about over the past month
7. The Responses To This Tweet
To be honest, I was on holiday for the past couple of weeks - so I wasn’t thinking a lot about EO. But whatever managed to run through my mind was based on this tweet. If you are into EO, I encourage you to read through the discussion - you will know what I am talking about.
On one hand, I feel like we have so much to be optimistic about, as an industry, given everything that folks have mentioned in the responses (also, adding on to my list of things to write or discuss about via TerraWatch Space), but on the other hand, as Kiri summarised in her tweet, we are all living within our own bubble. I believe satellite data has the potential to be a foundational technology for humanity, but for that, we need to get out of our bubble and interact with the majority of the world, who have no idea what this is about. More to come on this, from me, and I am guessing, from everybody reading this!
One Thing To Look Forward To
A conference, an announcement or something else that I am excited about
8. Attending Conferences, Moderating Sessions and Meeting the Earth Observation Community
I will keep this one short - September is going to be all about conferences. I am not sure, if the event organisers intended this, but somehow there is not going to be much work done this month, at least in my case, as I will be attending and participating in the various events this month. Following is a list of events I will be there, in chronological order:
World Satellite Business Week (from 14th till 16th) - I will be there for meeting with the EO community and get to know some online friends more.
Space Generation Congress 2022 (16th) - I will be moderating a NOAA-sponsored panel with heads of agencies on an EO-focused session
EUMETSAT Conference (19th) - I will be attending the first day of this week-long event focused on all things meteorology.
IAC 2022 (18th, 20th, 22nd) - I will be there to meet up with the space community - expecting a huge attendance for this one.
SatSummit (28th and 29th) - I am most looking forward to this one, specifically because it is aimed at the EO community.
As always, if you are attending any of these events and want to meet up, send me a note. And, if you are not, I will make sure to summarise the key themes in the next edition of ‘8-Things EO’.
Aravind - Founder, TerraWatch Space
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