Belgian company SpaceBel forms hyperspectral imaging spinoff

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GLASSBORO, N.J. — A small Belgian company known for its work on European Space Agency programs has created a spinoff company to operate a constellation of five to 10 hyperspectral imaging satellites. 

SpaceBel, a space systems and software company, will seek to raise around 10 million euros ($11.8 million) in 2021 to initiate development of the constellation and prepare for a demonstration satellite launch in 2023, said Thierry Du Pre-Werson, SpaceBel chief executive. 

SpaceBel formed the spinoff company, called ScanWorld, in May with Belgian investment firm SRIW, he said. SpaceBel is the primary shareholder, but will gradually dilute its stake through outside investment, he said. 

The exact details of ScanWorld’s constellation are still being finalized. Design work so far centers around satellites between 100 and 200 kilograms capable of sub-30-meter resolution, Pre-Werson said. 

SpaceBel formed ScanWorld to create a standalone business for the remote sensing applications it has developed through work on other satellite projects, Pre-Werson said. 

SpaceBel will provide the ground segment for ScanWorld, and will likely integrate its satellites, he said, using platforms and payloads from outside vendors. 

SpaceBel is providing software for ESA’s asteroid mission Hera, the two formation-flying Proba-3 satellites, and ground equipment for the agency’s ALTIUS greenhouse gas mission. Pre-Werson said the company is involved in satellite integration programs in Indonesia, Africa and South America for customers he was not at liberty to disclose. SpaceBel was leading a consortium of companies to build a hyperspectral satellite for Vietnam under a 2014 contract, but ended the program a year later due to financial difficulties in Vietnam, Pre-Werson said. 

Guerric de Crombrugghe, ScanWorld’s deputy CEO, said ScanWorld will look to venture capital for much of its Series A, with a portion of the funds coming from SpaceBel and SRIW. ScanWorld hopes to have its first batch of satellites in orbit in 2025, and to achieve full operational capability with a second batch in 2026, he said. 

ScanWorld will focus first on providing hyperspectral imagery to the vegetation market, he said, before expanding into other sectors, including potentially defense, energy and asset monitoring. 

“Whatever you can think of, there is an application for hyperspectral imaging,” he said. “People have to start somewhere. We start with agriculture and forestry.”

ScanWorld will compete with other hyperspectral startups such as Orbital Sidekick of San Francisco, Satellogic of Argentina, and HySpecIQ of Washington.

Crombrugghe said the ScanWorld constellation will likely operate between 500 and 650 kilometers in low Earth orbit. 

Pre-Werson said SpaceBel employs around 100 people across Belgium, France, and Poland. The company generated 14 million euros in 2019 revenue, he said. ScanWorld is based in Belgium, he said.