KOUROU, French Guiana – Geospatial imagery provider DigitalGlobe on Jan. 27 said it had booked about $200 million in firm contracts for very high-resolution optical imagery from its WorldView-3 and especially its future WorldView-4 satellite from non-U.S. defense and intelligence customers – the market DigitalGlobe targeted when it decided to launch WorldView-4.
Westminster, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe said that in addition to these firm contracts, all booked since October, the same market of non-U.S. customers had signed letters of intent valued at $135 million. While these are not guarantees of future business, the company said most agreements of this sort do transform into contracts.
WorldView-4, the former GeoEye-2 satellite that DigitalGlobe purchased in its acquisition of competitor GeoEye, had been in storage before DigitalGlobe decided to refurbish it and prepare for a late-2016 launch.
WorldView-4 does not have superior characteristics to WorldView-3 – both have imagers capable of detecting objects as small as about 30 centimeters in diameter. But WorldView-4 has the advantage of being available to non-U.S. governments in a way that WorldView-3 is not.
DigitalGlobe’s principal customer, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), has in effect reserved much of WorldView-3 capacity, forcing DigitalGlobe’s other customers, including its 10 Direct Access Partners – mainly government agencies – to make do with such limited satellite time as is available.
Proceeding with WorldView-4’s launch was based on the premise that these customers would move, in large numbers, to book WorldView-4 capacity. It was a gamble DigitalGlobe was willing to take especially has the commercial, nongovernment side of its business has been sluggish.
It is also true that storing a satellite like WorldView-4 carries its own costs, which argued in favor of launching it.
In its Jan. 27 statement, DigitalGlobe said the backlog of customers reserving WorldView-3 and WorldView-4 capacity is sufficient to provide the company with $38 million in incremental revenue starting in 2017, when WorldView-4 will be operational.
DigitalGlobe is the only commercial provider of geospatial imagery that has 30-centimeter-resolution capacity. To preserve the brand appeal of this product, the company in 2015 decided not to allow its wide distribution to free Internet map providers such as Google and Microsoft.
International competitors in Europe, Israel and South Korea are working to launch their own satellites with similar ground sampling distances, but none of them appears to be within two years of fielding a satellite with imager that sharp.
“The fact that we have this level of commitment form multiple international customers… this far in advance of the WorldView-4 launch is unprecedented,” DigitalGlobe Chief Executive Jeffrey R. Tarr said in a statement. “It is a testament to the unique value of our resolution and accuracy.”
Daniel L. Jablonsky, the company’s general manager for international defense and intelligence, said in a statement that DigitalGlobe is “in discussion with many other nations interested in our high-resolution, high-accuracy 30-centimery imagery.”