“Earth observation data when taken at the right resolution at very low cost is ingested into insights, it can actually become a part of daily decision making for every industry on the planet, for every company, for every corporation, for every government and for every individual. This is really what we are going for,” says Emiliano Kargieman, Founder & CEO, Satellogic.
What are the top three trends in Earth Observation in recent times?
First constellations, which is definitely still trending. Second, vertical integration of analytics into the data acquisition software, so integration of the analytics platform with the data acquisition platforms. The third trend is diversification of sensors. That’s why we are starting to see some radar startups, which are building small satellites for radar. There is a little bit more of hyperspectral, people are talking about building hyperspectral constellations. Our people have been looking at shortwave infrared payloads. There is a diversification of data sources that is also going to be healthy for driving new insights based on observation.
It’s being said that only 1% of the EO data which is generated is being used, and we are seeing more and more constellations coming up, do you think it’s really needed, if yes, how do we use the rest of the 99%?
My numbers are actually lower than 1% when I look at what’s being commercially used of the data that we collect from orbit. I think part of it is natural in the sense that one-third of the planet is land and the rest is water. That’s already concentrates your targets over specific areas and then the population and the interests that we have on top of the surface of the land are not equally distributed. Probably around 10% to 12% of the surface of the earth you are looking at.
I think we shouldn’t be much concerned about this. We should just build systems that can basically still give a return on investment even if we are using less than 1% of the capacity.
A lot of data that Satellogic is generating, it is giving away for free, do you think democratization and commercialization of data can go hand in hand?
Absolutely. Democratization and commercialization like the growth of the market will be fueled by all the applications and all different things that people will learn to do with data that is widely available at very low cost. This has been the case if you look at the tremendous growth in applications for LandSat Imagery for Sentinal Imagery. All we learn with this kind of systems is that people who get access to this kind of data can develop very interesting new applications. The more we can give them other sources of data with similar accessibility, the more applications we can see developed over the next year, and this will impact the whole market and will make the market grow.
How do you see Satellogic different from the rest of the small satellite companies?
What sets us apart is the cost efficiency of a data acquisition platform; the fact that we are integrating these cost-efficient data acquisition platforms with an analytics platform to provide insights to our customers. In the end it’s the scalability of the solution that matters the most, the frequency of data acquisition, the resolution of data acquisition and the final cost for customers that are going to be the drivers to grow the markets in this industry and we believe that at one meter of resolution with weekly or daily remaps of the planet at an affordable cost and with the analytics built in, we will be in a strong position to open new markets that are greatly promising for Earth Observation.
It is said that Satellogic is the only hyperspectral satellite provider, how do you position yourself?
There used to be a NASA owned satellite, the Hyperion, one with hyperspectral camera with 30 meter resolution. It was decommissioned early last year and since then we are the only one with hyperspectral camera at 30 meters of resolution flying. For hyperspectral, it is high resolution. We have three of these cameras currently operating in orbit. We plan to launch another 15 upcoming satellites next year. We do see nascent interest for hyperspectral data, particularly in companies building analytics based on machine learning and AI algorithms where hyperspectral data really distinguishes itself in how it can provide better segmentation tools and identification tools. We do see that some companies have started to think about launching hyperspectral cameras. For us the core of what we do is the one meter multispectral. The hyperspectral camera enriches the information that we collect mostly for analytics and many of the applications for hyperspectral are still farther away from being developed, even the applications for multispectral imagery. So I still think we are in a very experimental phase.
When you say that applications are still in the development stage how do you see that part proceeding with your plan for satellite constellation?
We have been focusing on solutions, taking into account the fact that we have a road map. We know that we are going to hit a certain frequency of data acquisition by this time next year. That we are going to hit a certain cost of data acquisition per square kilometer, that allows us to process this data and deliver specific services for particular industries that today have been underserved because of the cost of data and the cost of solutions. So based on a road map and our capacity, we have been able to start developing the solutions, working with customers together to do pilots on the solutions. So that when we have the infrastructure in orbit we will start rolling this out.
We have been focusing on oil and gas, forestry, agriculture, infrastructure monitoring, insurance as these are some of the areas we believe will start to become unlocked in terms of their potential. Further down the line, we definitely see agriculture as one of the largest areas of interest. But we still believe we are a couple of years away from having the infrastructure to be able to serve this market at scale, at the right frequency and at the right resolution. But we are working early on with customers and value-added service providers and partners to develop the applications there.
New markets will open up when we have the right infrastructure in place and these new markets will grow to outshine the current imagery market. We expect that to happen.
What are the new markets in terms of sectors, verticals or even geographies?
When we talk about new markets, we talk mostly about the new applications that are enabled by lower cost of data, higher frequency of data and particularly bundling of all this data with the analytics that allow us to provide insights and services or recovering monitoring services directly to customers. And these are the markets that have the promise of being significantly larger than the existing earth observation market. The market that can consume imagery and produce valuable things with that. In terms of verticals, as I mentioned before we have been focusing on oil and gas, in forestry, agriculture, insurance and infrastructure monitoring for government use. These are some of the areas where we see that traction that we get from the market and the requirement. Earth observation data when taken at the right resolution at very low cost digested into insights can actually become a part of daily decision making for every industry on the planet, for every company, for every corporation, for every government and for every individual. This is really what we are going for.
How much of government support has Satellogic got?
We have no government support; we are completely privately funded. We currently do not have any customers in any government. One of the things that we are showing for the first time in this industry that we can actually scale up a constellation of satellites for high resolution imagery without any government customers, without any government backing us up. And the reason for that is that for the first time, the unit economics for building, launching and operating the satellites are starting to work at the prices that the market is willing to pay.
What are your future plans?
We are building a constellation of satellites for imagery or satellites carrying a one meter resolution multispectral camera and a 30 meter resolution hyperspectral camera and we have launched eight of these satellites so far. The last three satellites that we launched are already servicing customers. We have plan between Q1 and Q2 next year to launch another 15 satellites that we are currently manufacturing. The plan is to launch up to another 26 satellites in 2019. The final goal for us is to reach a constellation of roughly 90 satellites in orbit to cover the planet at 1 meter of resolution every week.