Iceye synthetic aperture radar satellite data shown in European Space Agency's Sentinel Applications Platform, an open source platform designed to help users draw insights from Earth observation data. Credit: Iceye

SAN FRANCISCO – The European Space Agency is evaluating data from Iceye’s radar satellite constellation, Planet’s electro optical satellites and Spire Global’s weather, maritime- and aviation-tracking satellites.

ESA forges agreements to acquire, process and distribute data from dozens of commercial and government satellites, which it refers to as Third Party Missions, to complement data drawn from its own Earth observation satellites. ESA contributes funding to Third Party Missions in three ways. The space agency sometimes provides funding to support mission operations, assumes responsibility for distributing data to customers or pays for a license to share the data.

The Iceye, Planet and Spire missions “are considered as Third Party Missions under evaluation,” according to a July 29 ESA news release.

In late 2018, ESA announced the start of Earthnet Data Assessment Pilot, a campaign to make missions interoperable by supporting efforts to assess the quality of the data and conduct calibration and validation activities. The analysis of Iceye, Planet and Spire data will be performed as part of the Earthnet Data Assessment Pilot, according to the ESA announcement.

The designation “Third Party Mission under evaluation” also means people who want to investigate the utility of data from the Earth observation satellites for specific scientific or research and development activities will be able to submit requests through ESA.

“It will be key to increase knowledge about the data quality of these constellations and to foster data interoperability,” Giuseppe Ottavianelli, Earthnet program manager, said in a statement. “The activity will also raise awareness about the potential for scientific studies and new Earth observation applications.”

Of the new Third Party Missions under evaluation, San Francisco-based Planet is the veteran. Established in 2010, Planet operates five RapidEye satellites, 122 Dove cubesats and 15 SkySat satellites.

Spire Global, also of San Francisco and founded in 2012, has more than 70 satellites in orbit gathering atmospheric data, tracking ships with Automatic Identification System receivers and planes with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast receivers.

Iceye is the youngest company in the group. Established in 2014, Iceye launched the first radar microsatellite in January 2018. The European Space Agency began working to become familiar with Iceye data in October 2018. Iceye launched its second radar microsatellite in late 2018 and plans to launch five more in 2019.

“Being a part of ESA’s Third Party Missions under evaluation is a significant step towards ESA integrating Iceye missions into their overall Earth observation strategy through the Third Party Missions program,” Rafal Modrzewski, Iceye CEO and co-founder, said by email. “The Third Party Mission has been used to actively support non-ESA missions for more than 30 years, and it is a significant tool for ESA in providing data access to Earth observation data users in Europe and around the world from those non-ESA missions.”

ESA’s consideration of Iceye’s synthetic aperture radar constellation as a Third Party Mission “will ultimately result in Iceye data being more widely in use,” Modrzewski said in a statement. The Earthnet Data Assessment Pilot “helps organisations gain access to timely and reliable information, which we’re here to provide,” Modrzewski 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...