Last Week in Earth Observation: Feb 06, 2023
News, Analysis & Insights on All Things Earth Observation
Hey! Welcome to a new edition of
8-Things Earth Observation Last Week in Earth Observation (thanks to those who voted), where I attempt to curate the major developments in EO from the week that just passed and provide some thoughts & analysis on some of them.
Housekeeping #1: From today, this edition is going weekly - you should be receiving this every Monday. And, we are looking for sponsors - if you would like a product, an announcement or a company in the spotlight, do get in touch!
Housekeeping #2: If you do not see something on the curated list and you think it is relevant, please just send it my way. My aim is to build this weekly newsletter to be most the comprehensive resource there is about all things EO.
Four Curated Things
A non-exhaustive summary of key developments in Earth observation.
1. Financial Stuff - Funding, Contracts and More 💰
Orbital Sidekick (OSK), a startup building a hyperspectral satellite constellation, raised $10M from energy investors and energy companies, confirming their verticalised Earth observation strategy;
Space-as-a-service company Sidus Space, which aims to launch a multi-sensor satellite constellation raised $5.2M from the stock market;
Climate risk platform Risilience raised $26M in Series B funding to continue to build its digital twin technology to quantify climate risk for businesses.
2. Strategic Stuff - Announcements & Partnerships 📈
The US Air Force has signed a $1.2M study contract with Hydrosat, which is building a thermal infrared constellation to evaluate the use of the data for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications;
IBM is partnering with NASA to apply AI foundation model technology (the kind that is being used by ChatGPT) to analyse the petabytes of satellite data NASA has been collecting for decades;
ESRI is also partnering with NASA to have more geospatial data from NASA’s satellites accessible through ArcGIS.
3. Interesting Stuff - In The News 🗞️
GHGSat, which already has six satellites in orbit measuring methane emissions, will also be launching a sensor to measure carbon dioxide, making it the first commercial satellite of that kind;
The WMO hosted an international symposium to discuss plans for a Global Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure (more discussion below);
NISAR, a dual-band synthetic aperture radar satellite made possible through a NASA-ISRO partnership, is on track for its launch next year (see thread);
Xplore will be launching their first EO satellite, consisting of hyperspectral imaging data, high-resolution video and ultraviolet sensors, this year.
Asterra announced the launch of their EO Discover platform to support infrastructure companies to measure and report environmental metrics.
4. Interesting Things - Check These Out 🔗
This brilliant explainer of synthetic aperture radar from ESRI;
The top 100 geospatial companies list from Geoawesomeness;
ECMWF’s software strategy that encourages an open source approach;
This agriculture data portal from the FAO;
This piece that attempts to demystify near real-time flood forecasts.
This edition of the newsletter is brought to you by …
5. Satellite Imagery on Demand with SkyFi
SkyFi launched their mobile and web apps aimed at democratising access to satellite imagery (check it out). I am excited about their products because of the intuitive user experience and the e-commerce style satellite imagery buying experience that aims to demystify Earth observation for all.
I had several questions about their strategy, go-to-market choices and vision, which I asked the founders on my podcast episode. Check out the episode here!
If you would like a product, an announcement or a company in the spotlight, please get in touch!
Two Discussion Points
Analysis, thoughts and insights on some developments in EO
6. Earth Observation for Climate Policies
As I was attending the WMO International Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Monitoring Symposium earlier this week, the work ahead of us, the Earth observation community, became even more clear. My tweet storm below was a result of that!
Measuring GHGs are fundamental to both understanding the climate problem and developing climate solutions. The bad news? There is no comprehensive, timely international exchange of surface and space-based greenhouse gas observations. This is just one example of many such stories.
Currently, most GHG monitoring undertaken globally relies heavily on research funding, which is not a sustainable approach to monitoring climate change. Several options from the private space sector (see Kayrros, GHGSat etc.), public-private partnerships (see CarbonMapper) and non-profit (MethaneSat, Climate TRACE) are on the rise. This report from 2021 discusses the state of GHG Monitoring from Space.
But, for the purposes of creating, implementing and tracking global climate policies - like the Paris Agreement, we need one global, authoritative, trustable, objective, scientific entity. The good news? We already have an entity which does all of that for weather forecasting and atmospheric monitoring: the World Meteorological Organization, a specialised agency of the United Nations.
The figure shows a schema of what the activity from observations all the way until decision action could look like. We have quite a bit of work to do - not just launching satellites to monitor GHGs (as I often say, that is the easy part). The hardest bit will be about standardising the modelling and processing algorithms, setting global data sharing policies, identifying methodologies to convert EO data into policies etc. We need more attention and discussions on this!
7. Towards An Earth Observation Bubble?
I have started getting this question from a few folks. There might be a reason why they are asking - the following figure sourced from Dealroom’s European Deep Tech Report might give an indication why.
As someone who has made tracking and analysing the Earth observation sector my full-time job, I understand why EO enthusiasts might feel skeptical about the ongoing investment frenzy. There is news of EO companies raising VC funding almost every week. Several countries have announced plans for either launching an EO satellite constellation, leasing one or acquiring EO data.
But, launching satellites is perhaps the easy part, the question we should rather be asking ourselves:
“What should we be investing in Earth observation, to avoid an EO bubble?”
I have discussed this before, but to keep things simple: I would focus on the following areas for starters: EO accessibility, affordability, usability, fusability* and hopefully, together with that, increased awareness. Once our customers know and understand what we are trying to offer them, they will tell us what we need to be building, how and where they want it delivered and most importantly, what impact that will have for them. And, if we do not make the efforts to demystify EO for everyone, then, there will most likely be a bubble.
*I don’t think it is a real word!
One Podcast Episode
From the TerraWatch Space podcast
8. The Future of Earth Observation
An insightful (and foresightful) conversation with Jed Sundwall, the Executive Director of the Radiant Earth Foundation and ex-Open Data Lead at Amazon Web Services. We discuss his thesis for the future of Earth observation - the need for new data products, new leaders & new institutions, analysis-ready data, open source in EO, and more. Check it out and read his thought-provoking blog post!
Some of you may know what my thesis on the future of EO is all about:
The need for an 'advisory service layer' to make EO mainstream - one that is incentivised to be holistic, agnostic & objective, while focused on translating the impact of EO for customers and helping them get their job done.
This was also why I founded TerraWatch Space and what I do. More to come!
Until next week,
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