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OroraTech raises funding for additional thermal mapping satellites

WASHINGTON -- To the surprise of some aerospace industry oddsmakers, Lockheed Martin bested a team of Northrop Grumman and Boeing to win a $3.9 billion contract to help NASA design and build Orion, a capsule meant to replace the space shuttle as the agency's primary manned spacecraft. The contract could be worth as much as $8.15 billion through 2019, depending on how many of the reusable Orion spacecraft NASA orders.

WASHINGTON — OroraTech, a German company developing a constellation of thermal mapping satellites for tracking wildfires and other applications, has raised an additional 15 million euros ($15.4 million) to support work on future satellites.

Munich-based OroraTech said Nov. 30 it raised the money as an extension of a Series A round that raised 5.8 million euros in June 2021. Edaphon, a Belgium-based climate impact fund, led the new funding along with several existing investors.

The money will fund work on the company’s second satellite. Thomas Grübler, chief executive of OroraTech, said in an interview that second satellite is slated for launch in May 2023 on a SpaceX Transporter rideshare mission and, like the first, is being developed in cooperation with Spire.

OroraTech’s first satellite launched in January on another SpaceX Transporter mission to demonstrate the company’s thermal infrared camera. “We got more than we expected,” he said, such as detecting features at much sharper resolutions than designed. “It basically overachieved. We got better quality than we ever expected on this first prototype.”

The second satellite features an improved thermal imager. The swath width will increase from 100 to 400 kilometers while adding a third band in medium- and long-wave infrared. The camera’s resolution will also improve from 200 to 80 meters.

The new satellite is a precursor for an initial constellation of eight satellites that will be in a late-afternoon sun-synchronous orbit. Those satellites are planned for launch in May 2024, but Grübler said the company will need to raise additional funding to build them.

The company developed the satellites to offer wildfire tracking services, and is getting interest from firefighting agencies. “They want to replace some of their observation flights,” he said. “They want to fly less often because it’s very risky.” The company currently offers a product, called Wildfire Intelligence Solution, using third-party data.

However, he said the company is also seeing interest, particularly in Europe, for using the satellites for mapping urban heat islands to help cities deal with heat waves.

OroraTech now has about 80 employees, and Grübler said he did not expect the company to grow much larger with the new funding. However, the company is expanding geographically, hiring people in Canada and South America, and is preparing to open a U.S. office in the San Francisco area. Those offices will initially be focused on sales and marketing, but may later expand into product development to support specific customer needs in those regions.

Grübler said it was more difficult raising this new round, part of a general tightening of capital markets. “It’s harder for everyone. When I go to conferences, everyone says it’s harder now,” he said. “I think we are in a very good position because we are tackling climate change with our solution. Therefore, our solution will always be needed.”

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...