SAN FRANCISCO – Iceye, the Finnish radar satellite operator, opened a U.S. office in the San Francisco Bay Area led by Mark Matossian, who managed a series of aerospace programs at Google including the Earth-imaging venture Terra Bella.
“The U.S. is a very big market and a top priority for Iceye,” Rafal Modrzewski, Iceye CEO and co-founder, told SpaceNews. “We have a large set of customer-partners operating in that market. We want to make sure they get the best possible service.”
Since launching the first small commercial synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite in 2018, Iceye has established a constellation of three microsatellites to provide a range of products to defense and intelligence organizations, civil government agencies and commercial customers.
The firm’s U.S. customers and partners include satellite data and analytics firms Ursa Space of Ithaca, New York, R2Space of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and RS Metrics of Stamford, Connecticut, as well as ExxonMobil, the multinational corporation based in Irving, Texas.
“We want an office dedicated to U.S. customers and are contemplating a variety of options including establishing a full manufacturing chain in the U.S. as we hear from some customers that may be a requirement or may be helpful to them,” Modrzewski said. “Almost all of the applications we have on our roadmap are in demand by U.S. customers.”
Matossian, who earned a PhD in operations research and optimization from the University of Colorado, Boulder, before working on the Strategic Defense Initiative and a 1990s broadband telecommunications constellation, said he considered many business ventures before joining Iceye.
“Terra Bella was electro-optical imaging,” Matossian said. “When I looked at what the customers wanted, a lot of it came down to understanding precise geometry and change detection, things that are far better with synthetic-aperture radar than with electro-optical imagery. The accepted wisdom in the industry at the time was that radar satellites were too expensive and their power requirements were too large for an innovative NewSpace venture to operate them.”
Since that is no longer the accepted wisdom, companies around the world are raising money and building satellites to create additional SAR constellations including San Francisco-based Capella Space, Umbra Lab of Santa Barbara, California, and Synspective of Tokyo.
In addition to proving small SAR is possible, Iceye is operating a constellation that offers imagery at “such a compelling price-point that it opens doors,” Matossian said. “I think it will actually start steering the remote sensing market toward SAR and that SAR as a category will grow because of Iceye.”
From Iceye’s perspective, Matossian is the right person to lead Iceye U.S. because of his education and experience, Modrzewski said. “He did a very similar thing in the past when Google acquired SkyBox and converted it into Terra Bella. Mark was in charge of operations. He knows the industry, he knows the market and he cares about customers as much as we do.”
Initially, Matossian’s job will be to help current Iceye customers draw full value from the constellation, which Iceye is preparing to expand in 2020. In addition, Matossian will lead efforts to evaluate “locations for manufacturing based on access to facilities, people, suppliers, partners and interest from the local governments,” according to the Feb. 13 news release.
At Google, where Matossian spent 13 years, he “specialized in scaling up new products and services, leading projects across Asia, Europe, and South America.” In addition to Terra Bella, those projects included a precursor to OneWeb and Titan Aerospace. Earlier in his career, Matossian worked in business development and technical management for Teledesic Corp.
Matossian is also a co-founder of Solstar Space Co., a New Mexico startup planning to offer WiFi to payloads and people in space. Solstar connected spaceflight experiments with researchers on the ground through its Schmitt Space Communicator during test flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital capsule.
Planet purchased Terra Bella from Google in 2017.