Home Articles Interview: Matthew O’Connel – CEO, GeoEye

Interview: Matthew O’Connel – CEO, GeoEye

We are combining the best of both companies and will operate the merged assets as one company with a single face to the customer headquartered in Dulles, Virginia.Matthew O’Connel
Matthew O’Connel
CEO, GeoEye

Q How would you like to comment on the manner in which the visions of Orbimage and SpaceImaging shall come together in the newly combined company—GeoEye?

A We are combining the best of both companies and will operate the merged assets as one company with a single face to the customer headquartered in Dulles, Virginia. Our vision is to be the premier provider of satellite based geospatial data, information and value-added products to the National Security community, strategic partners and commercial customers throughout the world. We will do that by providing our customers with the highest quality and most timely geospatial or geospatially derived information, data, products and services to meet their requirements. We are off to a good start with a $36 million contract awarded by the Pentagon just last month for commercial imagery purchases this year. The U.S. Department of Defense has committed more than $1.5 billion to commercial satellite imaging companies in the US. This is to buy imagery and to partly fund next-generation systems. Clearly our government finds value in high-resolution commercial imagery.

Q It is understood in the market that “GeoEye” is about GeoInformation and GeoIntelligence. Is “GeoEye” about re-inventing or re-branding Orbimage due to the acquisition or is it about some new product and services offerings and directions?

A Orbimage’s acquisition of Space Imaging was announced on Jan. 12, 2006 and an entirely new company was formed – Geo- Eye. Instantly, GeoEye became the world’s largest commercial remote sensing company with combined revenues of over $160 million and a rich and robust archive of high-resolution satellite imagery. Last time I checked we had more than 253 million square kilometers of map-accurate imagery in our digital archive. While it will likely take us some time to completely settle in, our primary goal for this year is to execute on our business plans and manage our contract with the US Government to build and launch our next-generation system – GeoEye-1 (formerly OrbView-5). When launched in early 2007, GeoEye-1 will have a ground resolution of .41-meters panchromatic and 1.6- meters multi-spectral, the highest resolution ever commercially offered. So we have much to do as we operate our existing IKONOS, Orbview-3 and Orbview-2 satellites and build our nextgeneration system. All of this, while keeping a laser-like focus on our customers.

Q What is your view on the awareness and usage pattern of image-derived geospatial information in Asia and Middle East?

A Asia and the Middle East are fast growing markets. We have more than a dozen ground stations around the world where IKONOS satellite imagery can be directly down linked. In Asia we have customer ground stations in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore. In the Middle East we have customer ground stations in the UAE and Turkey. So, each Regional Affiliate can task and control the satellite while in their communication cone to quickly receive imagery and make it available to their customers to support commercial and national defense needs in almost real-time. We are also going to continue to mar- ket and sell imagery from India’s commercial remote sensing satellites. The Indian remote sensing market is very well developed and we work jointly with Antrix and NRSA in India.

Q Is there a product differentiation strategy for Asia and Middle East?

A The key to success in Asia and the Middle East is through our Regional Affiliates, Regional Distributors and our reseller partners. We do not do any direct marketing in these parts of the world but rely on our strategic partners to service the imagery needs of their local markets. Any product or service differentiation would be managed through these strategic partners. For example, Asia’s predominant market is mapping, and their cities are experiencing some of the fastest growth rates in the world. Our Asian affiliates know their markets and can quickly offer satellite imagery as the most accurate and cost-effective solution to update their customers’ maps. The broad portfolio of data products and resolutions from our different satellites address a majority of the requirements of our customers — from their medium- to very high-resolution needs.

Q Security and privacy are important and critical issues for certain regions and countries in this world. What are your policies on such issues in relation to your products and services?

A We operate under UN principles on Open Skies and under a license from the U.S. Government. Many more countries will be operating imaging systems so one’s ability to control the flow of pixels across borders is rather limited. Also, we have very stringent procedures in place to assure that we know who our customers are. We play by the rules and abide by all regulations.

Q With what mechanism do you check or validate the ‘prospective users’ and the ‘intended use’ of your products and service?

A We have the internal mechanisms in place to meet or exceed the requirements of the law and regulations. We get continual updates from various U.S. Government agencies regarding socalled ‘watch lists’ or ‘denied parties lists’ that contain the names or organizations of those who we are not allowed to do business with. This screening takes place whenever we set up a new account and any Regional Affiliate, Regional Distributor or Reseller must agree to uphold our policies regarding who can purchase satellite imagery.

Q With IKONOS and OrbView, all within your gamut, how do you see the future of GeoEye and its offerings?

A The biggest offering coming down the road is imagery from our next-generation system. Besides .41-meter ground resolution, it will be able to collect about 700,000 square kilometers per day. That equates to about the size of Poland, or Turkey. It will be very agile and it will have ground stations in Virginia, Alaska, Norway and Antarctica. We have a great story to tell the market about continuity too. IKONOS will operate through 2008 or longer; OrbView-3 will operate through 2010 or longer; and GeoEye-1, scheduled for launch in a year, will operate until 2015 or longer. It is great to be able to tell the market, “We can give you assured access to the highest quality commercial satellite imagery for the next decade.”

Q Which are the key application areas where the use of satellite based imageries will grow in the coming years?

A Besides the national security and homeland security aspects of remote sensing, one area of growth is location-based services. Mapping at very large scales, especially for topographic mapping, urban planning and cadastral mapping and updating are the obvious types of applications which will grow using very accurate high-resolution imagery. Some 17% of the world’s land boundaries are in dispute so we think that the need for accurate maps is critical for solving these issues. The marriage of commercial imagery with GPS and inexpensive desk-top software will speed the integration of imagery into societies. And, since imagery is all digital information, it will flow very easily across borders over the booming Internet. So, all of this combined will spark new ways to use our products.

Q OrbView 5, shall soon simultaneously be acquiring 0.41-meter panchromatic and 1.64-meter multispectral imagery. How will it have edge over other competitive commercial satellites?

A If you like looking at color then you’ll like looking at imagery from our next-generation system, GeoEye-1. We will be able to produce pan-sharpened imagery at very high-resolution. The new satellite will be agile and collect 7 times the amount of imagery that IKONOS could in a single day. The accuracy of the imagery will be better than our competitors and will be able to revisit any place on earth more frequently than our competitors. From an altitude of 684 km it’s really an ideal system for largearea collection. On the financing side of things, GeoEye-1 is fully funded which reduces any risk for our customers. Also, operating several satellites enables us to offer customers increased revisit times and even collaborative tasking when necessary. If one satellite is out of position then we can task the other to get the image.