SAN FRANCISCO — Emiliano Kargieman has ambitious plans for Satellogic, the firm he established in 2010 to develop Earth observation satellites. Kargieman envisions launching a constellation of 300 satellites, each weighing approximately 25 kilograms, to provide global Earth imagery with 1-meter resolution and updates every five minutes.
“People are using Fitbit and other devices to quantify self-movement,” Kargieman said. “We are aiming to quantify Earth’s movement.”
With 300 spacecraft providing frequently refreshed imagery, Satellogic’s constellation would enable customers to address global issues such as natural resources management, food security, energy generation and distribution, Kargieman said.
It will take years for Satellogic to build a constellation of that size. Last year, Satellogic launched its first two satellites: CubeBug-1 in April on a Chinese Long March 2D rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and CubeBug-2 in November on a Dnepr rocket from Russia’s Yasny launch site. In June 2014, Satellogic flew its third spacecraft, BugSat-1, a 23-kilogram prototype of the satellites the firm plans to deploy in its initial constellation. BugSat-1 traveled into orbit on a Dnepr from Yasny.
“We are using these satellites as steppingstones in the development of this constellation,” Kargieman said.
Satellogic plans to launch 15 satellites in 2015 to begin providing services for commercial customers. The firm has not yet selected a launch provider for its 15-satellite constellation, but is holding discussions with “all of them,” Kargieman said.
Satellogic at a Glance
Top Official: Emiliano Kargieman, founder and chief executive
Locations: Argentina, France, Israel, United Kingdom and Palo Alto, California
Mission: To democratize access to space-based services by dramatically reducing the barriers to obtain real-time satellite data, creating a new layer of worldwide awareness.
Satellogic already is working with customers who intend to use the firm’s imagery to support commercial agriculture, oil and gas ventures. Kargieman declined to name customers but said, “By the time we launch our first service constellation next year, we already will have customers using the information.”
Kargieman, a serial entrepreneur, came up with the idea of Satellogic in 2010 while attending the graduate studies program at Singularity University, an educational institution located at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Satellogic is his sixth startup. His most well-known business ventures are Core Security Technologies, a computer and network security firm he co-founded in 1996, and Aconcagua Ventures, a firm he co-founded in 2006 to invest in Latin American high-tech startups.
“I’ve always been involved in information technology and software companies,” Kargieman said. “When I started learning about space technology, I thought it would be cutting-edge and innovative. I was surprised to learn that the pace of innovation was really low.”
At that point, he realized spacecraft were designed for maximum reliability and that high launch costs were making companies shy away from risk. “If you are optimizing for reliability by building monolithic pieces of hardware that can’t fail for a long period in this bad environment, you are going to focus on things that you know work,” Kargieman said.
Through Satellogic, Kargieman is challenging that business model and bringing ideas from the software industry to space. Instead of expecting monolithic systems to perform flawlessly, for example, Satellogic plans to rely on large numbers of inexpensive components to create a reliable network.
Satellogic also published the code for CubeBug, the firm’s initial, 2-kilogram cubesat. “In the software industry, we build things in an environment that fosters cooperation,” Kargieman said. “The more people who use a piece of code, the more robust it becomes. You find the bugs and end up with a very robust platform in a relatively short period of time.”
That does not mean, however, that Satellogic will share all its software. Code related to specific payloads and applications will not appear online, he said.
To date, Satellogic has paid for spacecraft development with funding from private individuals and revenue. The firm derives revenue from its work co-developing initial applications for its imagery, which it plans to offer in five spectral bands, including visible light and near-infrared, Kargieman said.
In addition, Satellogic plans to offer customers video imagery. “To be quite honest, the main reason for offering that is because we can,” Kargieman said. “This is a new capability that people are not used to thinking about.”
Nevertheless, Satellogic has come up with potential applications for its video imagery that look promising, Kargieman said. He declined to discuss those applications.
Satellogic is one of several firms building constellations of Earth observation satellites destined for low Earth orbit. Planet Labs Inc. and Spire, both of San Francisco, as well as Dauria Aerospace, with headquarters in Munich, also have announced plans to sell imagery captured by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.
“Satellogic is a real player in the emergent satellite swarm industry,” said Bob Richards, a space industry entrepreneur who co-founded Singularity University and Moon Express Inc., a lunar exploration and transportation company. “Entrepreneurs leveraging exponentially accelerating technologies and declining launch costs are creating great new space companies that are sure to disrupt the traditional satellite industry.”
One unique feature of Satellogic’s constellation is that each spacecraft will be connected to others via radio crosslinks. This type of mesh network will enable Satellogic to send instructions to its spacecraft and download data continuously, Kargieman said.