Pixxel signs partnership with Rio Tinto for hyperspectral imagery

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WASHINGTON — Indian hyperspectral imaging startup Pixxel has announced a partnership with mining company Rio Tinto, giving that company early access to data from satellites scheduled to launch early this year.

Pixxel announced Jan. 13 an “early adoption partnership” with Rio Tinto, under which Rio Tinto will have access to hyperspectral imagery at a resolution of five meters from Pixxel’s satellites. Rio Tinto will use the data to see if is useful in identifying mineral resources and monitoring active and closed mining sites.

“Rio Tinto is participating in Pixxel’s Early Adopter Program because we believe that exploration could benefit from more cost-effective and easier access to hyperspectral satellite data,” Dave Andrews, head of exploration at Rio Tinto, said in a statement.

Awais Ahmed, co-founder and chief executive of Pixxel, said in an interview that Rio Tinto is the first mining company to join that early adopter program. Other companies, which Pixxel has not identified, include those in agriculture and the oil and gas industries.

“Mining is going to be a large user of hyperspectral data,” he said. “We are trying to help Rio Tinto reduce the footprint of their exploration by telling them the areas they need to focus on.”

The partnerships are intended to help understand potential applications of hyperspectral imagery, which includes hundreds of spectral bands. Such imagery has long held promise, but Earth observation companies have struggled to find compelling uses for it among customers.

“Rio Tinto has their own internal data science team that has been working with multispectral sources of satellite data and they’re excited with hyperspectral data,” Ahmed said. Pixxel also plans to collaborate with Rio Tinto on developing software pipelines for analyzing hyperspectral data.

He said the agreement involves one year of technology demonstrations and pilot programs, where Rio Tinto pays the for data. “After 12 months, it’s going to be a pure commercial opportunity,” he said.

The data that Rio Tinto and other early adopters will analyze will come from satellites Pixxel is preparing to launch. The first satellite is scheduled to launch early this year as a rideshare payload on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. That will be followed by a satellite on a SpaceX dedicated rideshare mission scheduled for launch in April.

Those satellites are the first in a constellation Pixxel plans to launch. Ahmed said six more satellites are planned for launch by the end of this year.