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9 Earth-Imaging Start-ups to Watch

A tech boom will shake up commercial satellite imaging

8 min read
9 Earth-Imaging Start-ups to Watch
Photo: UrtheCast

Words like “provocative,” “disruptive,” and “game-changing” are rarely applied to the staid world of satellite imaging. But that’s exactly the kind of talk the industry is generating, with the successful launches of more than two dozen Earth-imaging satellites in the last few months and the planned launches of yet more by year’s end.

Those spacecraft are being lofted not by traditional aerospace players but by venture-capital-funded start-ups. What’s more, the satellites cost an order of magnitude less than traditional spacecraft, and in many cases they’ll be networked in large constellations capable of revisiting sites far more frequently than what’s now possible. So even though their per-pixel resolution won’t compete with satellites from market leader DigitalGlobe, they’ll be able to provide much fresher data—in some cases, revisiting sites up to several times a day—at a much cheaper price.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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