Hydrosat shows how its thermal imagery technology provides insights to increase crop yields. Credit: Hydrosat

WASHINGTON — Hydrosat won a $1.2 million Air Force contract to investigate uses of thermal infrared data for national security applications, the company announced Feb. 2.

Based in Washington, D.C., Hydrosat is a startup founded in 2017 that analyzes data from satellites to study the planet’s environmental conditions.

The contract was awarded by AFWERX, an Air Force organization that works with startups. The customer for the data is the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), based at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Air Force uses thermal data, for example, for flight planning and for surveying landing zones for helicopters.

Hydrosat developed an analytics platform that uses surface temperature data collected daily by NASA’s MODIS and Landsat satellites to help understand the effects of climate change or natural disasters. The technology is used in the agriculture industry to forecast crop yields and optimize irrigation. 

Under the AFWERX contract, “we’re able to deliver our thermal infrared remote sensing data to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center to adapt to its unique requirements and needs,” Hydrosat CEO Pieter Fossel said.

The company plans to launch its own constellation of 16 thermal infrared satellites in low Earth orbit but has not released a timeline for the deployment. Hydrosat said in 2021 it planned to launch its first small satellite mission VanZyl-1 in 2022 but the spacecraft has not yet launched. A spokesperson said the company has not yet announced a new target launch date. 

In July 2022, Hydrosat secured a license from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for its thermal imaging satellites. 

The constellation of infrared sensing satellites will continuously collect surface temperature data that the company plans to sell as a subscription analytics product.

The future constellation, Hydrosat said, will provide “higher resolution and faster repeat cycle, providing better and more up-to-date information for flight planners.” The company designed its products primarily for the agriculture industry, “yet its capabilities are also aligned with Air Force needs.”

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...