Render of Grasp Global multi-angular polarimeter mounted on a Spire Global cubesat for the ADLER-2 mission. ADLER stands for Austrian Debris detection Low Earth orbit Reconnoiter. Credit: Grasp Global

SAN FRANCISCO – French startup Grasp SAS has acquired Baltimore, Maryland-based AirPhoton to create Grasp Global, a European and U.S. Earth-observation company with plans for a cubesat constellation.

Grasp, which stands for Generalized Retrieval of Atmosphere and Surface Properties, was founded in 2015 to provide software and remote-sensing services primarily to agencies including the European Space Agency and Eumetsat, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

AirPhoton, founded in 2012 by scientists who met at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, specializes in in-situ instruments to measure particulates and satellite payloads.

Earlier this year, Grasp raised 2 million euros ($1.96 million) in a funding round, backed by Austria-based Findus Ventures and Cloudflight, a German IT services firm. With the money, Grasp acquired AirPhoton in August and began offering Earth observation hardware and software.

“We have a lot of complementarity because we succeeded with software and AirPhoton succeeded in hardware,” said Oleg Dubovik, Grasp Global co-founder and research director of the French National Center for Scientific Research Atmospheric Optics Laboratory at the French University of Lille.

Grasp Global now has access to the U.S. market and is eligible to compete for NASA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contracts. Similarly, the company can sell hardware developed by AirPhoton in Europe.

To demonstrate its capabilities, Grasp Global plans to establish an Earth-observation constellation to provide frequent observations of atmospheric aerosols and surface properties.

“We plan to develop our first constellation of multi-angle polarimeters, called Gapmap, to retrieve advanced atmosphere composition products (atmospheric aerosols) for air quality applications of interest to polluting industries and atmospheric correction products of interest to many other satellite constellations,” David Fuertes, Grasp Global co-founder and CEO, said by email.

Lorraine Remer, Airphoton co-founder and chief science officer, added by email, “Government agencies have a number of projects to launch similar instruments. We believe our data will be of sufficient quality while much cheaper, and therefore will provide a valuable complement to state-funded missions.”

With the recent investment, Grasp Global has funding to launch its first instrument. The French space agency CNES is contributing approximately 1 million euros toward the launch of Grasp Global’s second mission on a U-Space cubesat. U-Space is a French startup offering turnkey spaceflight services.

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...