WASHINGTON — Booz Allen’s venture capital arm chose remote-sensing startup Albedo as its first investment in a space company because of its potential to transform intelligence gathering, a senior executive said Jan. 23.

Albedo on Tuesday announced it raised $35 million to build and launch a network of ultra-high resolution Earth imaging satellites. Several venture firms participated in the funding round, including Booz Allen Ventures.

Booz Allen, a large consulting firm known for its work with the U.S. government and military, launched its corporate venture arm in 2022 and manages a fund of about $100 million.

“We are focused on investments in data coming from space,” Chris Bogdan, executive vice president at Booz Allen and head of the firm’s space business, told SpaceNews

He said Booz Allen intends to take an active role in working with Albedo to bring its technology to defense and intelligence users, as well as civilian applications like climate, infrastructure, agriculture, energy, and urban planning.

Booz Allen Ventures plans to invest in a broad range of tech sectors besides space, including analytics, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. 

Satellites could replace drones, balloons

The U.S. military today relies on limited surveillance aircraft, drone flights, high-altitude balloons or intermittent satellite passes for overhead intelligence, Bogdan said, whereas Albedo promises more persistent eyes in the sky that can watch adversary movements or track targets of interest. 

Albedo’s low-flying satellites are designed to provide surveillance from very low Earth orbit, flying at altitudes of 200 to 300 miles. That allows the satellites to gather high resolution imagery without having to expose aircraft crews or drones to the risk of being shot down by adversary weapons.

Bogdan, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, said having a bird’s-eye view of the entire battlefield, updated every few minutes with 10-centimeter resolution, would be a significant improvement compared to current technologies. 

“For a client who needs very accurate photos in the middle of the Pacific, a very low Earth orbit satellite can revisit that target five or six times a day, at a resolution that’s five times better than what’s in low Earth orbit today, and comparable and better than what our aerial assets do,” he said.

Despite advances in space-based surveillance, the U.S. military has struggled to make the transition away from aerial platforms, Bogdan pointed out. “The Air Force culture favors air platforms,” he added. “When assets are in space, in some people’s minds, they have less control.” Many government agencies compete for access to a limited number of satellites, “and the Air Force feels like they don’t want to have to get in line.”

But it’s also true that “satellites today can’t provide the same accuracy and the same resolution and the same quality of data that those airplanes could,” said Bogdan. “Albedo is going to be one of the first companies to prove that that can happen.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...