8-Things-Earth Observation: January 2023
Key developments in EO from the last month
Hey! Welcome to a new edition of 8-Things Earth Observation, where I attempt to curate major developments in EO and provide some thoughts and analysis on some of them.
I know January has technically one more day to go, but this newsletter will move to a weekly cadence going forward - you should be receiving this every Monday from February 6. Expect the next editions to be shorter and crisper. Thanks for reading!
Four Curated Things
A non-exhaustive summary of key developments in Earth observation.
1. Financial Stuff - Funding, Contracts and More 💰
Capella Space, raised $60M in growth equity financing from the U.S. Innovative Technology Fund to scale its SAR satellite constellation.
World View, a company developing stratospheric balloons for Earth observation and tourism, to go public in SPAC deal.
Floodbase, formerly Cloud to Street, that is building a near-real time flood modeling platform, closed $12M in series A funding.
EarthOptics, raised $27M to expand its soil sensing and data platform.
Kuva Systems, building methane emissions imagery platform closed a $11.3M in Series A funding.
The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) awarded Maxar Technologies new contract awards worth up to $35.8 million.
Satellogic provided a business update, where it decreased revenue projections, resulting in layoffs and delays in construction of a new factory.
2. Strategic Stuff - Announcements & Partnerships 📈
SkyFi launched mobile and web apps aimed at democratising access to satellite imagery, while also announcing partners for other data sources.
Asterra, announced a partnership with ACME Lithium, following the discovery of lithium in Nevada, using Asterra’s PolSAR analysis model.
Planet completed the acquisition of Salo Sciences, which should accelerate the deployment of their forest carbon monitoring system (+ my thoughts).
Planet, also announced a partnership with NASA Harvest, to develop solutions for food security, based on Planet’s satellite imagery.
The UN Environment Programme will use data produced by Kayrros to support its International Methane Emissions Observatory.
Spanish space companies Elecnor Deimos, Alén Space, DHV Technology and Satlantis, are joining hands to build the Atlantic EO constellation.
SAR satellite company Synspective has partnered with Insight Terra, to develop a space enabled monitoring solution for the mining industry.
Sidus Space has partnered with SkyWatch for its data distribution, taking advantage of the latter’s TerraStream offering.
ESA is collaborating with Sinergise to encourage development of EO solutions with a free one-year enterprise-level subscription for Sentinel Hub.
The US Space Force, has put its plans to acquire weather data as a service, on hold, as existing commercial services don’t fill their needs just yet, whereas it will continue to launch its demonstration missions.
LightBox, a software platform for commercial real estate has partnered with the First Street Foundation to integrate their climate risk products.
3. Interesting Stuff - In The News 🗞️
⛈ Megaconstellations might impact on weather forecasting - affecting measurements of water vapour, precipitation and atmospheric temperature.
🛰️ A new (centralised), data platform for hosting data from the Copernicus programme has been launched.
🇵🇭 Europe will build a Copernicus mirror site in the Philippines, allowing utilisation of Copernicus data for environmental applications.
🌪️ NOAA will begin its biggest procurement in history, as it readies up its preparations for the next generation of weather satellites.
🚀 SpaceX kicked off 2023 with a launch of over 100 satellites, most of which were EO payloads (+ thread if you want to know which ones launched).
❌ US has sanctioned the Chinese SAR satellite company, Spacety, for allegedly providing satellite imagery of Ukraine to the Wagner Group.
4. Interesting Things - Check These Out 🔗
The EarthMap no-code platform for rapid analysis of EO data;
The Coastal Risk Screening Tool to visualise sea-level risk;
The OrbitalAI challenge from ESA to advance in-orbit data processing;
This Weather & Climate Machine Learning course from ECMWF (ongoing);
This thread on the future of SAR imagery and the gaps in understanding.
This report from Sifted with a comprehensive overview of space tech;
This report from ESA on the subject of “Space for Green Finance;”
This report from UN on how space supports climate action.
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Three Discussion Points
Analysis, thoughts and insights on some developments in EO
5. The Future of Earth Observation
I am a hardcore, EO enthusiast, so much so that I made it my mission to make satellite data mainstream and founded TerraWatch to help me achieve that. So, naturally when I saw EO missions get cancelled or deprioritised one after the other, I started thinking hard about the future of EO, in the context of public sector vs private sector. I was also wondering about why actually very few think about it and talk about it. I summarised my thoughts in the thread below and asked some blatantly naive questions - I will let you read it.
6. Making ‘Usable, Useful Data Products’ Derived From EO
As we petabytes of data are downlinked from space on a daily basis, I naturally spend a lot of time thinking about ways to get it out there to make impact, whether it is for an individual, business, government or any organisation. The idea that I have ended up making my thesis is the concept of building ‘Usable, Useful Data Products’ that are derived from EO, among other sources. It is important that the data products are usable and useful. Over the past few years, my biggest problem has been that EO is very useful, but not usable.
A ‘Usable, Useful Data Product’ is anything that users can start to use off-the-shelf without really worrying about what the underlying technology is and how it works - think about a user who sees the temperature on their weather app, or a software developer who uses a temperature API to integrate that data into their application. Neither the user nor the software developer care how that number came about - it is a pretty complex process (I tried to demystify weather in this deep-dive) - one that uses multi-source, multi-sensor data after very complex processing and data assimilation techniques.
Within the Earth imaging world, some have started to call this ‘Usable, Useful Data Product’ approach as analysis-ready data. Planet launched Planetary Variables that goes in this direction and I expect several other companies to follow, enabling users to start using analytics from EO without worrying about sensor type or data format or any EO jargon.
My thesis for EO can be summarised as the following:
Building enabling tools so that tens of thousands of users can exploit EO data to create usable, useful data products derived from EO, which will then be used by tens of millions of users - making EO mainstream.
7. Narratives For EO Adoption
You may have heard this phrase: “Every company will have a space strategy.” I will be honest - in the first few years of my life in the space industry, I bought into this completely. But, the more I spend time working with end-users on their EO adoption roadmap, I have realised that approach is fully flawed. I detail why in this thread and propose a couple of solutions. Let me know what you think!
One Podcast Episode
From the TerraWatch Space podcast (exceptionally, we got two this time)
8a. Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Goals
A very insightful discussion with Dr. Argyro Kavvada on the use of Earth observations for SDGs, the challenges of using EO data, and how we can exploit the full potential of EO for sustainable development policies in the future.
8b. Satellite Imagery and Analytics On-Demand
A fun conversation with Bill Perkins and Luke Fischer from SkyFi discussing their founding story and the vision, the importance of making satellite imagery accessible to the masses, the markets SkyFi is targeting, and the state of EO.
Until next week,