HySpecIQ-derived product with data courtesy of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: HyspecIQ

SAN FRANCISCO – HyspecIQ is beginning to fill out its advisory board, a move that offers clues to the hyperspectral imagery applications the startup plans to address.

Ray Palumbo, the retired U.S. Army General who served as the Pentagon’s director for defense intelligence and head of the Defense Department Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Task Force, will be joining the board alongside Shanti Rao, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and architect for the Carbon Mapper greenhouse gas monitoring constellation.

Additional advisory board members for the Herndon, Virginia startup will be announced soon, HyspecIQ CEO John DeBlasio told SpaceNews.

HyspecIQ has been moving rapidly since it announced a $20 million investment in September from billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The company selected York Space Systems to manufacture buses and integrate satellites, and BridgeComm to provide optical communications capabilities, a redundant capability for satellites that also will rely on radio frequency links. HyspecIQ plans to launch its first satellite in 2023 and a second spacecraft soon after.

Initially, HyspecIQ will focus on government applications for hyperspectral data. The startup won a National Reconnaissance Office study contract in 2019.

“Based on our ongoing work with HyspecIQ, NRO extended the period of performance for its commercial imagery study contract with HySpecIQ to Sept. 30, 2022,” an NRO spokesperson said by email. “Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) capabilities have the potential to contribute to NRO current and future overhead architecture, and this study contract provides important insights into our ability to fully leverage HSI and integrate it into our architecture.”

U.S. national security agencies already obtain data from airborne hyperspectral sensors.

“What’s exciting to me here is airborne-quality hyperspectral from space,” said Keith Masback, a HyspecIQ consultant and the former U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation CEO and president. “From a national security perspective, you can see over places where you can’t fly.”

That capability will become increasingly important in any future conflict in which the United States does not control the airspace as it did over Iraq and Afghanistan, Masback added.

While HyspecIQ is intent on serving defense customers, the firm has drafted a list of “30-some use cases and that’s given us the 104 [spectral] bands that we’re collecting,” DeBlasio said.

The startup intends to supply information on greenhouse gas sources and emissions, for example to government agencies as well as oil and gas companies.

Researchers recently found 26 methane sources in Algeria, Turkmenistan and China with shortwave infrared data from Maxar Technologies’ WorldView-3 satellite, according to “Mapping methane plumes at very high spatial resolution with the WorldView-3 satellite,” a report by researchers from the Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering at Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valence and Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“This is an extremely promising application of HyspecIQ data,” Rao said. “It’s one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve seen. We need to have a variety of sensors at every size scale looking at the fugitive methane problem.”

Key commercial application for HyspecIQ stem from the ability of its sensors to identify construction materials.

“We can image a roof and see what kind of material it is,” DeBlasio said. That’s useful both for damage assessment and for predictive analysis of property insurance claims, he added.

HyspecIQ is so confident in its ability to garner revenue from the applications it has identified that the firm plans to quit fundraising after its next investment round.

“Our goal is to have our Series C round be our last round,” DeBlasio said. After that, revenues will provide funds to build and launch the firm’s third and fourth satellites, he added.

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...