Iceye cubesats
Iceye plans to launch three SAR microsatellites in the next year as precursors to a larger constellation. Credit: Iceye

WASHINGTON — Finnish company Iceye announced Aug. 23 that it has raised $13 million to further development of a constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) cubesats.

Iceye said in a statement that $8.5 million of the new funding came in a financing round led by Draper Nexus, an early-stage venture capital company with offices in California and Japan. Others participating in the round include True Ventures, Lifeline Ventures, Space Angels and Draper Associates.

The other $4.5 million came from the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovations, known as Tekes, company spokesperson Aubrey Lerche said in an Aug. 24 email. Tekes funds research and development work by companies and organizations in Finland. The company has raised $18.7 million to date, including funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.

As part of the financing round, Q Motiwala, managing director of Draper Nexus, will join Iceye’s board of directors. “Iceye has a disruptive value proposition of making Earth observation data and insights available at a refresh rate and cost that is orders of magnitude better than any system out there today,” he said in a statement.

Iceye is developing cubesat-class spacecraft capable of producing SAR imagery. The company said in its statement announcing the funding that it plans to launch three such spacecraft with SAR payloads in the next year. Last August, it announced an agreement with York Space Systems, a Denver-based smallsat developer, for 10 spacecraft platforms.

However, Iceye is taking a different approach for the initial three satellites. Lerche said one satellite will be built entirely in-house by Iceye. A second satellite will be designed by Iceye but assembled and tested by an unnamed partner, while the third satellite will be partially designed and assembled by that partner, using Iceye’s SAR sensor. That approach, Iceye said, is designed to test each approach for spacecraft development before moving into full-scale production.

Iceye plans to later launch a constellation of 18 satellites in order to provide revisit times of several hours. The company did not disclose when it expected to have that constellation in place, or how much additional capital it would need to raise to deploy that system.

“Iceye will use this capital infusion to continue growing operations, readying our technology for the next generation of SAR microsatellite constellations,” Rafal Modrzewski, co-founder and chief executive of Iceye, said in a statement.

Iceye hopes to attract customer interest from several markets for SAR imagery, ranging from urban planning and tracking port activity to environmental and agricultural applications. The company said it hopes to sign up “large commitments” from customers around the time it launches its initial satellites.

Iceye is one of several companies proposing constellations of small satellites to provide SAR imagery more frequently and at lower costs than existing, larger SAR satellites. Another startup, California-based Capella Space, raised a $12 million Series A round in May to support its own constellation of SAR smallsats.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...