Pixxel raises $25 million for hyperspectral imaging constellation

by

TAMPA, Fla. — Indian startup Pixxel said March 28 it has raised $25 million for a hyperspectral imaging constellation that plans to deploy its first satellite this week.

Canadian early-stage investor Radical Ventures led the Series A round, bringing Pixxel’s total funding to $33 million to date.

Awais Ahmed, Pixxel’s CEO and co-founder, said proceeds will support plans to launch two satellites this year and six in early 2023 for the constellation. 

The startup aims to provide five-meter resolution imagery across 150 spectrum bands for agriculture, energy and other markets it believes are hungry for more data-rich Earth imagery.

Earth observation companies have historically struggled to find compelling uses for hyperspectral services among commercial customers. 

However, multiple startups have been created in recent years with hopes of using reduced small satellite costs to realize new commercial markets for hyperspectral imagery, which has traditionally focused on defense.

Capacity is now the biggest constraint for Californian hyperspectral imaging startup Orbital Sidekick, its CEO Daniel Katz recently told SpaceNews.

Mining giant Rio Tinto said Jan. 13 it plans to use Pixxel’s data to see if it is useful for identifying mineral resources and monitoring its operations.

Ahmed said the first iteration of the camera Pixxel plans to use for its services launched last year through a hosted payload partnership with Lithuanian satellite maker NanoAvionics.

He said a second iteration of the camera is onboard its first satellite that is slated to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket April 1, as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-4 rideshare mission that aims to launch a total 40 spacecraft.

Pixxel has plans to launch a second satellite “soon” aboard an Indian PSLV rocket.

The six satellites slated to launch next year “will be more capable, higher resolution, more collection capacity” and have longer operational lives, he said via email. 

Pixxel had planned to have 30 satellites in orbit by the middle of 2023 but this has been delayed to the end of 2024.

“Not dissimilar to other space companies, COVID supply chain issues have pushed out the timeline a bit,” Ahmed said in an email.

He said “Pixxel designs, integrates and tests the satellites completely in-house” using parts from international suppliers including South African small satellite specialist Dragonfly Aerospace, which is building its cameras.

Ultimately, he said Pixxel hopes to leverage India’s supply chain to bring down costs.

Early-stage investors Jordan Noone, Seraphim Space Investment Trust Plc, Lightspeed Partners, Blume Ventures and Sparta LLC also participated in Pixxel’s Series A funding round.