Finnish startup Iceye to supply DoD unit with airborne imagery

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SAN FRANCISCO – The Finnish startup Iceye announced plans Nov. 20 to supply airborne Earth-observation-data services to the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) through its new U.S. subsidiary.

Although Iceye is best known for plans to gather Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data with microsatellites, “Iceye has done and continues to do aerial SAR imagery as one of our services,” Rafal Modrzewski, Iceye CEO and co-founder, said by email. “What Iceye is aiming for long-term is a massive uptake in SAR imaging and analytics, and airborne SAR imaging is one of the tools… As we’ve developed our own SAR sensors, we are able to deploy SAR imaging on platforms other than microsatellites just as well.”

Increasingly, government agencies and commercial firms see the value of using airborne and space-based radars to observe activity on the ground because unlike electro-optical imagery which requires sunlight, radars can obtain imagery day, night and through clouds or inclement weather.

Modrzewski declined to comment on the value of the DIUx agreement, but called it “an early stage contract” that paves the way for additional sales throughout the United States.

In parallel with its airborne program, Iceye is continuing to build SAR microsatellites. Rather than saying how many satellites the company will launch, Modrzewski said Iceye will build a constellation large enough to provide “imaging anywhere on the globe every few hours.”

Iceye is slated to launch its first proof-of-concept SAR satellite, ICEYE X1, by the end of the year and to begin selling commercial data services in the first half of 2018.

On Oct. 30, Iceye announced plans for a U.S. subsidiary to provide Earth-observation data “in long-form” to current and prospective clients as well as data analytics capabilities to support more varied industry-specific services.

DIUx, the Pentagon organization that seeks commercial solutions for national security problems, is working with several companies in its quest to provide persistent global imagery day, night and in all weather conditions. That plan hit a snag in October when the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees opposed the Pentagon’s plan to transfer $50 million to the DIUx SAR campaign.

DIUx usually works with U.S. companies, but Air Force Col. Steven Butow, DIUx West Coast military lead, made a point at the Space Technology Investment Forum here in August of inviting entrepreneurs outside the United States to share their technology with the organization.