With nearly 2000 live satellites circling the globe, getting a detailed picture of any part of the Earth’s surface is no longer a problem. The challenge is working out what to do with all these images. Analysis of geospatial data is where the next big space bucks are to be made, and the latest company to enter this crowded market is UP42, a new Berlin-based startup backed by Airbus Space and Defence.
UP42 wants to create a marketplace where providers of satellite data can sell their wares, and users can buy ready-made packages of information.
One early adopter of UP42’s open platform, for example, is LiveEO, who work with Deutsche Bahn to monitor the growth of trees along its railway tracks and to predict where branches might come down during storms. The data helps reduce some of the €125m Deutsche Bahn spends each year on vegetation management.
“There has been an explosion of geospatial data in the last few years. But there haven’t been easy standardised ways to get hold of it,” says Eli Tamanaha, CEO of UP42. Some companies may offer a easy internet access to their data, while others may still rely on sending images on USB sticks, he says.
“We want to make geospatial data really easy to use, allowing people to combine satellite images with drone footage, weather data, internet of things data. If we can make it easy to use it will encourage people to explore it more and find more use cases.”
Growing the market for geospatial data is crucial for Airbus, which is launching its four Pleiades Neo high-resolution earth observation satellites in 2020 and 2021. Such launches will be hard to justify unless there is an ever-increasing appetite for space data.
The size of the satellite data market is estimated to be worth between $5bn to $7bn a year, but it is becoming increasingly competitive.
DigitalGlobe, Airbus’s US rival in Earth observation, is also offering easy-access satellite data through its EarthWatch solution. A host of startups are offering niche services based on satellite data, from Switzerland’s Arviem tracking container ships to the UK’s Rezatec providing images for farmers.
UP42 says that, unlike some of the other satellite data providers, it aims to be an open marketplace where even Airbus rivals can sell data. Providers set their own prices for their data and UP42 takes a cut of each transaction.
Airbus has provided enough funding to give UP42 a runway of three or four years, says Tamanaha, although he does not rule out raising money from other investors. The 20-person company is hiring engineers aggressively as it builds the platform.