Analysis and Commentary

Satellite maker hyped about upcoming rainbow mission

Analysis and Commentary

If all goes to plan, in May next year, Australian companies will make a small step towards addressing an enduring lack of sovereign control of very important data.

Among a planned launch will be products designed and made by edge computing company Spiral Blue and Esper Satellite Imagery, which is building satellites to capture hyperspectral data from space.

As this website has noted before, Australia spends about $5 billion on earth observation data a year, but as in many other technological fields, we have been happy as a consumer rather than producer of what we use. It was only in 2021 that the nation was able to manage its own source of EO data, via the CSIRO’s 10 per cent capacity share of the NovaSAR-1 sat.

Times are changing, however, and the last federal budget delivered by the former Coalition government included $1.16 billion for Australia to build and operate four of its own EO satellites.

And it’s not just governments that are seeing the value of satellite imagery.

According to Esper, which is in the middle of a seed round, it has close to $150 million worth of pre-orders for hyperspectral data.

“A lot of focus is on climate metrics, and we’re also working with a lot of agriculture and mining companies who are going to use our imaging data, and they’re soft committing to our data, once it’s available,” co-founder and CEO Shoaib Iqbal tells @AuManufacturing.

“So it’s a major milestone for our company to gather that large amount of interest in our data, and I guess the next few years for us are essentially to go out and build things that actually deliver on that demand.”

Co-founders Przemyslaw Lorenczak and Shoaib Iqbal

Iqbal, 22 and weeks away from finishing a Bachelor of Space Science at RMIT, founded Esper in 2019 with Przemyslaw Lorenczak after the pair went through a hackathon together at Monash University. 

They are in planning for their May “Over The Rainbow” mission, as part of an Australian team including Spiral Blue, “space taxi” maker Space Machines Company and gyrochute company Dandelions. (More on the planned mission here.) The consortium is being supported by a $578,000 Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre Commercialisation Fund grant last year.

In this episode of @AuManufacturing Conversations with Brent Balinski, Iqbal tells us about Esper’s story so far, the usefulness of hyperspectral data, why 18 satellites is the number they’re aiming for, and more.

If you enjoy the episode, please consider subscribing, leaving a positive review, and helping us share the word. 

Episode guide

0:28 – What they do and how they got started: building sensors that image the earth from space after the two founders met each other at a Monash University hackathon.

1:45 – About to finish a space sciences degree at RMIT.

3:10 – Why hyperspectral imaging is useful. 

4:10 – The company’s pivot away from building AI to design a satellite payload to earth observation.

6:02 – Use cases in precision agriculture, prospecting for minerals, and tracking emissions.

7:44 – A team of ten currently and the team’s silos in opto-mechanical and software/embedded systems.

9:10 – The recent delivery of engineering models to Space Machines Company, and the goal of delivering their flight models by early November. Plus some “shaking and baking.”

11:36 – The importance of Spiral Blue’s computers in the upcoming mission for on-board processing, and why edge computing is so important to hyperspectral imaging from space.

13:10 – Being able to image every point on the earth on a daily basis.

15:10 – The importance of sovereign Australian earth imaging.

17:20 – Where the government can have a role in supporting the space sector.

19:30 – Supply chain disruptions for satellite manufacturing, and being made to use legacy equipment as a result.

21:10 – Mentorship and how it has helped the company build its commercial chops.

Pictures: supplied

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