“Space is no longer being defined by larger, more established companies, but rather new companies that are extending the boundaries.” Amaresh Kollipara
The Industry Value Chain
On Dec 7, 1972, the Apollo 17 crew took the first picture of the whole Earth, entitled “The Blue Marble.” The industry involving space has evolved greatly since that first picture was taken; and instead of focusing on taking these pictures, the focus has now turned to the industry value these images taken by satellites can provide.
All the companies on the panel fit in somewhere along the industry value chain; and although the focus so far has been on the initial stages, there is more value generated and the data becomes more interesting the further down the chain as we progress. In this way, customers can connect with the knowledge obtained rather than what seems to be meaningless raw data.
The first step is placing satellites in space, within Earth’s orbit. These satellites, or nanosatellites, can then have various sensors, that are able to collect data that can be sold to customers. The raw data that is initially sold to customers, with recent discoveries and continuous evolution, can now be enhanced through software analytics and intelligence, which creates all the magic! This is the true business value in the field. While customers appreciate the raw data, the industry’s growth potential is in the software analytics progressions, creating a business value for the data and applying it to the customers needs.
Creating the business value is something the featured start up Spire focuses on. Spire focuses on placing nanosatellites, carrying a variety of sensors, in space. People from all industries can access the data, completely disrupting the norms of the industry. By using nanosatellites, and with technology rapidly improving to decrease the size and increase capabilities of sensors, their customers end up with more, better, and more importantly, cheaper data at their fingertips.
The esteemed moderator, Amaresh Kollipara, Managing Partner at Earth2Orbit, focused the panel with four resounding themes that were echoed through the evening.
Theme 1: The market and technology trends are favorable. In other worlds, the time is NOW!
Robbie Schingler, President and COO of Planet Labs sees his company as focusing their efforts to imaging the Earth to collecting data about the Earth, on a daily basis. Through this, Planet Labs hopes to give humans context to every micro level decision they make.
On a similar level, Shay Har-Noy, Senior Director at Digital Globe shares his vision of analyzing the whole planet, not looking at just one spot at a time, but looking at multiple spots on the globe, together, trying to analyze trends and understand correlations between them. Digital Globe aims to exploit every pixel collected!
Theme 2: This is much more than space. More specifically, this sector is not only about space. “The point is not getting to space now, it’s what do we get from it and how do we use the data?” – Shay Har-Noy
While it is important to have satellites up in space, to be able to collect the images, there is so much more that can then be gleaned from each pixel collected.
Julian Mann, co-founder of Skybox, which was recently acquired by Google, knows that the satellite industry is very translatable to software companies. He maintains that it is still important for a company to own their own satellites and then be able to understand and pull all the data from the images themselves. If you don’t own the data, you may run into problems obtaining or sharing the data.
On the other hand, Pavel Machalek, the CEO of Spaceknow, is completely focused on the software analytics level. His company does not have any satellites. Instead they take the data obtained by satellite companies and use the pixels and bring in the insights. Although there seems to be dissent on how to obtain the data, there is a clear consensus that there needs to be a focus on information obtained from the raw data. Through this method, they can monitor and predict industrial trends in countries, which leads into the third theme.
Theme 3: Every major industry can benefit. The data developed by this sector has numerous applications and can be useful in almost any and every industry.
Theresa Condor, the Vice President of Sales and Business Development at Spire, brought a valuable example of this to the table. Although Spire does have multiple nanosatellites up in Earth’s orbit, their focus is on rf sensor based technology. ¾ of the world is either water or not readily accessible by normal surveillance technology. So by using a number of sensors on their nanosatellites they are able to collect data in remote area where common data collectors cannot go easily. Their technology is being used extensively in industries using or implementing ship tracking data, such as global trade, anti-piracy, and fishing. In the coming future, they plan to move from just ship tracking to planes, trains, trucks, storage and more, with plans to change tracking in the entire global transportation system.
Theme 4: Disruptive innovation is coming. It’s exciting to see that this sector is just starting out and a wave of disruptive innovation will be seen in the near future.
So where do these companies see themselves and the industry in ten years?
We’ve barely scratched the surface yet. As Theresa Condor said, the space industry is growing up. It used to be very hardware focused, employing mostly physicists and engineers. Now there is a change. Data is being used as a service, with software engineers being pulled in for data analytics, and people of all professions being consulted to understand the needs from the data.
Between our panelists, we have visions of bringing the data to a consumer level, incorporating more sensors to provide more conclusive information to customers, and ideally use satellites and analytics to bring daily real time global data to a consumers’ fingertips that is as recent as an hour!
With a plethora of satellites already up in space, advancements in sensor technology, and so many types of data that can be obtained from imaging, there is such a wide scope of business value in this field, with endless possibilities. As moderator Amaresh Kollipara stated, “The true magic is finding the kernels of intelligence in the masses of data collected.”
Pavel Machalek, CEO, Spaceknow
Theresa Condor, Vice-President Sales & Business Development, Spire
Robbie Schingler, Co-Founder, President and COO, Planet Labs
Shay Har-Noy, Ph.D, Senior Director – Geo-spatial Big Data, DigitalGlobe
Julian Mann, Co-Founder and Vice-President Product Management, Skybox Imaging (acquired by Google)
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Written by Dipti Kanthilal, VLAB Marketing Committee Blogger. Dipti is a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow at Santa Clara University.