Recent timeline of European Space Agency Third Party Missions. Stars designate the first launch in a series. GHGSat, Planet and Spire satellites are under assessment as Third Party Missions. Credit: ESA Third Party Missions Timeline Sept. 23, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO – Iceye won a contract to provide data from its constellation of small synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellites to Copernicus, the European Union program aimed at providing continuous, global Earth observation.

With the announcement, Iceye becomes the first entrepreneurial SAR company to be designated a Copernicus Contributing Mission, meaning its imagery and data will be provided free of charge to European public organizations, European service providers and international organizations that serve European citizens.

“This goes on the wall of Iceye firsts: the first small SAR satellite, the first SAR video, and now the first NewSpace SAR company to be part of this large contracting vehicle with very stringent service and data-quality requirements,” Rafal Modrzewski, Iceye CEO and co-founder, told SpaceNews. “We are looking forward to users being able to harness the power of high revisit.”

Thanks to Iceye, Finland claimed the gold medal for SAR revisit rates in April when the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency compared global Earth-observation capabilities in an Olympic-themed market research report.

“I’m glad that customers are starting to be a bit more educated about the differences in systems,” Modrzewski said. “It’s a good thing to ask the question, ‘What am I truly looking for and which system is the most suitable for me to receive that kind of capability?’”

To achieve high revisit rates, Iceye has launched 14 satellites to date. The company plans to expand its constellation by more than 10 satellites in 2022.

As a Copernicus Contributing Mission, Iceye will supply imagery and data. Increasingly, government agencies and commercial customers are clamoring for data services, like remote site monitoring or maritime vessel detection, rather than data alone.

Being designated a Copernicus Contributing Mission “is a huge step forward,” Modrzewski said, “but it will be fantastic to look into supplying actual services to the users.”

Copernicus Contributing Mission are selected through an extensive process. In 2019, Iceye was selected as a Third Party Mission under evaluation by the European Space Agency, a Copernicus partner. Two years later, ESA’s named Iceye an official Third Party Mission, giving researchers and scientists access to free imagery and data.

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...