Startup HySpecIQ awarded a contract in 2014 to Boeing to build its hyperspectral imaging satellites. HySpecIQ then halted work on its constellation due to a decline in energy prices. This image depicts the output of a hyperspectral sensor, which gathers information on light reflected in every pixel. Credit: Boeing

SAN FRANCISCO – HyperSat LLC emerged from stealth mode in September to announce it raised $85 million to launch two high-resolution hyperspectral imaging satellites in 2020.

“We wanted to wait until we raised the entire amount to put up the first two satellites before we went public,” Derek Woods, HyperSat chief executive, told SpaceNews. “There’s a lot of interest and a lot of new entrants. It seemed to make sense to stay in stealth mode until we were fully financed.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded HyperSat a license in 2016 to provide hyperspectral data to the U.S. government with a resolution of four meters and to commercial customers with ten-meter resolution, Woods said. “We think it is certainly a groundbreaking step to be able to do that from space,” he added.

Since acquiring the license, HyperSat executives have been surveying the market, conducting engineering studies and developing their satellite bus and payload, Woods said.

With funding now in hand, company executives are meeting with manufacturers to discuss building the 200- to 300-kilogram satellites. They also are talking to launch providers about sending the spacecraft into low Earth orbit, between 500 and 600 kilometers.

“We have some flexibility because we are small enough to rideshare,” Woods said.

In recent years, several companies, including Satellogic, Cosine, Planetary Resources, NorStar Space Data and HypSpecIQ announced plans for hyperspectral imaging constellations. Not all of them have panned out.

NorStar of Montreal announced in August it raised $52 million, including $13 million from the Government of Quebec, for a 40-satellite constellation for Earth observation and tracking space objects. The Dutch firm Cosine released the first images in April from a miniature hyperspectral camera on a GomX-4B nanosatellite. Satellogic of Argentina raised $27 million in 2017 for a hyperspectral constellation.

HySpecIQ ordered two Boeing satellites in 2014 before a downturn in the energy market prompted the Washington-based startup to put its plans on hold. Planetary Resources of Redmond, Washington, pivoted away from Earth observation in 2017 to focus on asteroid prospecting.

While some of the early hyperspectral startups were struggling, HyperSat was “taking the time to refine the offering and the technology,” Woods said. “There’s no doubt about the demand and the need for hyperspectral.”

Defense and intelligence agencies as well as agriculture giants, natural resource prospectors and energy companies gather hyperspectral data with airborne sensors. Satellites would provide far more data at a lower cost per image than airborne sensors, Woods said.

Recent advances in computer processing and reductions in the cost of data storage work in HyperSat’s favor because space-based hyperspectral sensors produce a flood of data delivered in the form of three-dimensional data cubes, Woods said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...