GeoOptics of Pasadena, Calif., a company that hopes to sell space-based weather data to government and commercial customers, is trying to raise about $25 million to begin full-scale production of its first two satellites.
The company has already raised about $10 million, according to its chief executive, Conrad Lautenbacher.
Lautenbacher, a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spoke at a gathering of the Washington Space Business roundtable May 16 and in an interview with SpaceNews May 30.
GeoOptics hopes to take advantage of a technique called GPS radio occultation, which measures atmospheric conditions including temperature, pressure and humidity based on their effect on GPS navigation signals. Lautenbacher said the technique provides “a perfect profile of the atmosphere,” helping forecasters better predict where storms might occur.
The competition among space companies to provide such data in coming years is expected to heat up in a tense budget environment.
In April GeoOptics completed a design review of its first satellite at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
GeoOptics officials anticipate having two satellites on orbit within 18 months, Lautenbacher said. Those pathfinder satellites will be known as Community Initiative for Continuous Earth Remote Observation or CICERO.
Company officials have said they hope to have six satellites in low Earth orbit in three years and eventually a constellation of 12 or more satellites. Full global coverage would require 24-48 satellites, Lautenbacher said.
NOAA does not currently have plans to buy space-based commercial weather data of any kind, but Lautenbacher believes there is a market for the data, particularly in Asia.
During a hearing May 23, Jon Kirchner GeoOptics’ president and chief operating officer, asked the House Science, Space and Technology environment subcommittee to allow federal agencies to buy satellite weather data from commercial providers.
“There are a number of competitive, creative companies that will promptly respond to supply the Nation with a bounty of new weather data — vastly more data, better quality data, new kinds of data — and do so far more quickly, far more inexpensively, and with zero financial risk to the taxpayer,” Kirchner said in written testimony.
Like the commercial imaging satellite industry, Lautenbacher believes the business model creates less risk for cash-strapped government agencies because they are only buying the data, not the satellites. Kirchner said in testimony that for the cost of one instrument aboard NOAA’s planned Joint Polar Satellite System, which he pegged at $80 million, a private company could deploy a constellation of a dozen small satellites.